rose to move, That this House takes note of the White Paper The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, last month the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council made a Statement on the future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent. On that occasion, a number of Peers rightly asked that this House be given an early opportunity to discuss the issue in more detail. I am delighted that we have that opportunity today.
The Government’s policy in this area is informed by two central imperatives: first and foremost, to take the steps necessary to ensure, to the greatest degree possible, the future security of this country and our allies; and, secondly, to make progress towards fulfilling our vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. I believe that the White Paper achieves the right balance between those two imperatives.
Let me rapidly remind the House of the key decisions set out in the White Paper: we have decided to renew our minimum independent nuclear deterrent by procuring a new class of ballistic missile submarine to replace our four Vanguard-class submarines in the 2020s; we will examine whether we require three or four of the new class of submarines to maintain our posture of having a submarine always on deterrent patrol; we have decided to join the US programme to extend into the 2040s the life of the Trident D5 ballistic missiles that our submarines currently carry; and we have secured assurances from the US Government, which were published last month, giving us the option to participate in any future programme to replace the D5 missile.
The third component of our nuclear deterrent system is the British-designed and built warhead carried on the missiles. The White Paper indicates that decisions on the refurbishment or replacement of the warhead are likely to be required in the next Parliament but are not needed now.
Let me briefly summarise why some decisions are needed now. Even with a five-year extension to the life of our existing submarines to make it around 30 years—and incidentally, that will be longer than the life of any of the predecessors of the Vanguard class—those submarines will start to leave service in the early 2020s.
Let me address head-on the claims of those who say we can run the submarines even longer. They claim that US experience with Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines proves that. The judgment we have made on boat life is based on a careful assessment of the costs and risks involved, not least given the need to replace major components that have a particular design life and the risk of a significant loss of availability, as happened at the end of the life of the previous, Resolution-class submarines. Our judgment, which has been scrupulously and thoroughly examined, is that an extension of about five years should be feasible and cost-effective, while a longer life extension would not be.
The comparison between the United Kingdom and the United States here is not useful. The US has land-, sea- and air-based nuclear weapons and a much more extensive capability than we have. For example, it has 14 SSBNs, while we have only four, and they are the only nuclear deterrent system we have, so we cannot afford to take any irresponsible risks. We certainly cannot plan on that basis.
In addition, the Ohio boats are different from the Vanguards; they had a longer original design life, and there are major engineering differences; for example, radically different propulsion systems. If we had intended a much longer extension of the Vanguard boats, as the US intend with theirs, it would have needed to be built into their original design and their subsequent manufacture, refit and maintenance. That was not the case.
The assessment of our experts, which has been arrived at very carefully, is that it will take about 17 years from starting the detailed concept phase to design, build, test and deploy replacement submarines. Seventeen years may seem a long time, but nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines are some of the most complex pieces of technology in the world. We do not get the chance to prototype them: the first boat goes to sea. It also reflects our previous experience and that of the US and France with similar submarines. So we had to act now to avoid a gap in our deterrence protection when the Vanguard class goes out of service.
Given the need for decisions, we had to consider how the international environment might look over the 20- to 50-year horizon involved. We are the first to recognise that any attempt to look ahead that far is fraught with difficulty, and that this is ultimately a matter of judgment. We had no choice but to address the issue.
Our judgment is that we cannot discount nuclear risks to our security over that timescale. Indeed, the White Paper goes further and says that we see potential risks in three areas, in each of which we believe our deterrent potentially has a role. The first is the possible re-emergence of a strategic nuclear threat to the UK and its allies over the longer term. Secondly, potential nuclear threats from emerging nuclear weapon states, or states with nuclear aspirations. Some of these—I have in mind North Korea and Iran—give us cause for concern, and there are real risks of further proliferation. Thirdly—what is really a subset of the first two risks—the new possibility that states may seek to deliver nuclear weapons against us using terrorist proxies.
These risks may be exacerbated by wider trends leading to a potentially increased risk of interstate conflict: failed and failing states; the rise of extremism; and increased pressure on, and competition for, resources as a result of population growth and rising global consumption.
It is worth noting that there is no sign that any of the other nuclear-weapon states recognised under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty—the United States, Russia, France and China—plan to abandon their nuclear weapons capability.
So what is our nuclear deterrence policy? Our deterrent is intended to help ensure that nobody seeks to threaten our vital interests, and that nobody seeks to use nuclear weapons to blackmail us or the international community. It is not intended to coerce or threaten others; nor is it intended as a tool for war-fighting or to seek military advantage on the battlefield.
The principles which govern our approach to nuclear deterrence are unchanged, and the White Paper spells them out: our focus is on preventing nuclear attack; we will retain only the minimum deterrent required for our security; we maintain ambiguity about the circumstances in which we might contemplate use of nuclear weapons, although we are very clear that we would consider using them only in extreme circumstances of self-defence, including the defence of our NATO allies; our deterrent supports collective security through NATO; and an independent centre of nuclear decision-making in the UK enhances the overall deterrent effect of allied nuclear forces.
We will continue, as now, to have the flexibility to vary the number of missiles and warheads that might be employed, as well as having the option of a lower yield from our warhead. That flexibility can make our nuclear forces a more credible deterrent against smaller nuclear threats, but we remain clear that any conceivable use of our nuclear weapons—at whatever scale—would necessarily be strategic, both in intent and effect. Indeed, we have deliberately discontinued the use of the term sub-strategic, in the sense that it had been used previously to apply to a possible, limited use of our nuclear weapons.
One concern that has been expressed is that our deterrent is somehow operationally dependent on the United States, or that we can be prevented from employing it. This is simply not the case. Decisions on any use of our nuclear weapons would be sovereign UK decisions, and no other country could prevent their employment. Only the Prime Minister can authorise the use of our nuclear weapons, even if the missiles are to be fired as part of a NATO response. The instruction to fire would be transmitted to the submarine using only UK codes and UK equipment. All the command and control procedures are fully independent, and the missiles do not use the global positioning satellite system: they have an inertial guidance system. Nothing in the planned Trident D5 life extension programme will change that position.
While we have never concealed that we choose to procure certain elements of our system from the United States, I can provide assurance that the system is fully operationally independent of the United States. Successive Governments would not have sustained our nuclear deterrent on these terms were that not the case.
Another charge levelled is that the retention and renewal of our deterrent system is illegal and, in particular, incompatible with our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Again, that is simply not the case. The UK has been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of efforts to reduce the size of existing arsenals and to fight proliferation. We have reduced the explosive power of our nuclear weapons stockpile by over 70 per cent since the end of the Cold War. We have the smallest stockpile of any of the five recognised nuclear powers, and only we have reduced to a single system. We already have less than 1 per cent of the total global stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Following careful assessment of our future deterrent needs, we have now decided to make a further 20 per cent cut, involving the dismantling of about 40 warheads. In future, the maximum number of operationally available warheads will be fewer than 160, down from fewer than 200. That will represent a reduction by about half since 1997, compared to the plans of the previous Government.
I will briefly talk about why we chose to continue with submarines, and about costs. Submarines provide a platform that is discreet, unprovocative, invulnerable and safe. We are confident that our submarines on patrol have, in almost 40 years of continuous patrolling, never been detected by a potential opponent. I take this opportunity to pay warm tribute to the skills, professionalism and dedication of those in the Royal Navy, and the civilians who support them, who have carried out this crucial role over that period. We all owe them a considerable debt.
To pick up another concern that noble Lords have expressed, the White Paper makes clear that we do not believe that technological advances will erode the submarines’ advantage in terms of invulnerability compared to other platforms. That invulnerability and assuredness is key to ensuring that we can keep our deterrent minimal and credible, and therefore as cost-effective as possible. Apart from other disadvantages, land or air platforms would be significantly more vulnerable—and would therefore require much larger numbers of aircraft or silos to achieve the same level of credible capability—and therefore much more expensive.
Submarines also enable us to stick with the D5 missile, which is a much more capable and cost-effective solution than any other—certainly than the cruise missile options canvassed by some. They also mean that we can draw on existing infrastructure, industrial capacity and skills.
Some noble Lords have expressed concern at the possibility of reducing our SSBN fleet from four to three. The White Paper makes clear that our policy is to maintain continuous deterrent patrolling. We will investigate fully whether changes in technology, operational procedures and maintenance regimes might make it practicable with the new class to do so with only three boats. Although we should not seek to pre-empt that judgement today, I can assure noble Lords that we have no intention of taking irresponsible risks with the maintenance of our deterrent posture.
On costs, we have made clear that the investment required to renew our deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities of our Armed Forces. Despite the claims of some who would have us believe otherwise, the Government have a strong record on defence spending. The last spending review increased the defence budget by an average of 1.4 per cent per year in real terms. The defence budget for 2007-08 will be about £3.7 billion higher than in 2004-05. We have continued to make significant investments in new capability for all three services. Decisions on the level of our investments in nuclear and conventional capability will be taken in the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the outcome of which will be announced later in the year.
Our initial estimate of the procurement costs for a four-submarine force is £15 billion to £20 billion, spread over more than 15 years. This estimate contains provision for the costs of the submarines, at £11 billion to £14 billion, as well as for future support infrastructure requirements and any future refurbishment or replacement of the warhead. Our estimate of the submarine costs draws on our experience with other submarine programmes, as well as being built up from first principles.
In conclusion, we believe that this is a price worth paying. We welcome debate on a capability which is vital to the future security of our country, and I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ views this afternoon.
Moved, That this House takes note of the White Paper The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent.—(Lord Drayson.)
My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships are very grateful to the Minister for presenting this vital matter to us in such assiduous detail. What he has had to say is very useful in guiding us.
It will come as no surprise to hear that we on this side believe that it is completely right to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent and to take the necessary steps in good time to ensure that that is achieved. For the world as it is and, sadly, is likely to be for a long time to come, we have to send a simple message: that a nuclear attack on us would be suicide for the attacker. An attempted sting will produce a fatal sting in return. That is merely repeating the grim message of deterrence. It means that in the modern world, much as it was in the world of ages now passed, a credible minimum deterrent is for us an essential part of the security jigsaw—not to be used but to prevent nuclear weapons ever being used, because that would be total fatal destruction.
All your Lordships realise that for the public—those who want to know about these things—that is quite a complicated proposition. Rightly, the public today require an insight into the argumentation and thinking behind that proposition from both the Government and we on this side of the House, who plan to be in government before long.
Before getting on to that, let me say a few words about the more immediate technical aspects of the decision on which the Minister has dwelt. We respect and take in good faith the Prime Minister’s view on timing. We accept that the best defence minds must have been involved in these decisions on replacement and the time needed for new designs and construction. I know these have been queried by some United States submarine experts very recently, but frankly the Opposition do not have all the facts that are available to the Government of the country. The Government do have access to those facts, as they should, so we cannot do anything but assume that the Prime Minister is acting completely in the national interest and on the best possible expert advice.
I confess as a layman that 14 years does seem a long time in which to build a submarine platform. Seventeen years sounds even longer, but I suppose we have to remember that the present Vanguard-class submarines started to be built well over a decade ago, although the last one was completed only in 2001. One has only to think of the pace of technology in the past few years and the state that something as simple as the mobile telephone was in only seven or eight years ago. One needs only to see how far they have come to realise just how enormously every aspect of electronic technology, which of course is at the heart of the Vanguard and Trident systems, has altered, even in the past two or three years.
By 2022, the present submarines will be antiques if left in their present situation. Whether we need three or four is an open question, as is the question whether with three we can manage the continuously-at-sea strategy. I reflect merely that having three, with one under repair, one being prepared and one having to be refurbished in some way, and all three observably in port, could have its obvious dangers. The secret is secrecy and the lack of knowledge of the whereabouts of the submarines, which could be jeopardised.
I leave it to my noble friend Lord Astor to dwell on these issues at greater length at the end of the debate and with greater expertise, but I am sure he will confirm my view that decisions are now needed and cannot be delayed for very long, at least on the information that we have been given. However, as I have said, those of us who hold this view, and who therefore support the Government’s direction on this matter, also owe it to the public and to your Lordships to explain something of the background and the context of our thinking. People understandably feel that it is not enough simply to say, “Something is right for us; we feel it is right; that is our judgment, and that is that. Good afternoon”.
That is not good enough. Decisions of this kind may be quick to be announced but they bind for decades ahead. What is decided and proposed in this White Paper both shapes our bequest to future generations and our contribution to the security of the wider world, with which we are ever more intimately bound up. What we do affects both the wider alliance to which we belong and the wider world debate about nuclear weapons and their proliferation, which is becoming more and more intense every day.
I know there are those who argue that nuclear weapons are no defence against terrorism, which is where the deadly threat to our security comes from. It is undeniably a deadly threat. The world is flat not only in economic terms, as Thomas Friedman and others put it so well, but in terms of weapons and power, or is becoming so. Weapons technology today means that the smallest are now level with the mightiest, and that tiny groups with deadly material and deadly high-tech weapons can challenge the largest military forces and the mightiest weapons systems on earth.
Even if nuclear weapons cannot meet that kind of threat, terrorists are, as the Minister rightly reminded us, helped and encouraged, sometimes on a proxy basis, by rogue states such as North Korea. They also have the opportunity to gain access to nuclear and fissile materials where other states, which may not be badly intentioned, are nevertheless lax in their control of these materials. The case of AQ Khan comes very much to mind in that context. So if we need a credible deterrent, which I believe we do, as part of the global discipline against either maniacal or negligent behaviour, what are our underlying reasons and aims behind that need and the decisions that are now being taken?
First, obviously, we want to see world peace; secondly, we want to see our own nation’s security in as far as it can be separated from the global security network, which nowadays is less and less; thirdly, we have to halt further proliferations and wind down the systems of existing nuclear states to a minimum in accordance with the aims of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; and fourthly, we have to maintain constant pressure for armament reduction of all sorts, which can only be multilateral. There are those who want unilateral action. Some idealists believe that it would set an example to aspiring nuclear states. I believe that it would do no such thing. On the contrary, it would present new targets, new incentives and new opportunities for irresponsible actions.
I referred to peace as an objective. We are now very far from that. All I can say is that at least no nukes have been let off in anger, not since Hiroshima. It is plain that deterrence at the nuclear level works and people cite the developments between Pakistan and India as an example. It is in our direct national interest to ensure that mutual deterrence continues to work because as I said earlier the aim must be to prevent the weapons ever being used. Any use of any nuclear weapon anywhere in the world would today freeze up the open international system immediately, which is more and more integrated thanks to the information revolution. It would threaten the globe’s highly integrated energy and material supplies and paralyse world economies and investment. That is our national security in the widest but nevertheless the most realistic sense in today’s world.
As for our national security in the more narrow sense of protecting these islands, the truth is that for almost every nation nowadays a nuclear attack on one is a nuclear attack on all. The idea that as an existing, recognised nuclear power we can step out of the increasingly integrated world security system by unilateral action would be like stepping clumsily out of a small boat. It could keel over by the act of our stepping out of it. The NPT, with its acceptance of five existing nuclear states and the comprehensive regime of monitoring to deter all others, is just that small boat and it is nearly under water while we are standing here. It clearly needs straightening and tightening up.
I recently visited the IAEA in Vienna. Mr Baradei and his expert colleagues there have been giving enormous thought to a strategy for strengthening and renewing the NPT rather than letting it be submerged by careless, irresponsible or even well intentioned actions. The IAEA believes that, first, all existing nuclear weapons and material must be locked up totally and completely. There must be no loose nukes, as its members put it. That requires more intense international co-operation than ever before. If I may say so, it is good that our Department of Trade and Industry officials in the DTI’s international nuclear policy and programme department are playing a key part in helping Russia, for one, which is probably the most important country in that respect, to do that and to ensure that fissile material is locked up.
Secondly, there must be no new uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities. We must continue to use a complex combination of sticks and carrots to stop Iran going this way. Iran can be helped with civil nuclear power. Some people ask why Iran needs it when it has all that oil, but it is an incredible fact that Iran is at this moment importing oil, such a mess has it made of its own economy. Iran must not be permitted to flout either the existing NPT regime or a better one that can be devised. If it is so permitted, beyond that lies cataclysm, massive proliferation and disaster.
Thirdly, there must be no new nuclear states. North Korea is the immediate danger. Perhaps it is not said often enough, but we all know that China holds the cards. China is capable of holding the whip hand and of halting North Korean plans if it wants to. It is through talking to China and bringing it to the point where it sees the acute danger to itself that the path to a solution will be found.
Fourthly, there must be a true global alliance against nuclear terrorism and the terrorist procurement of nuclear materials. Fifthly, as the IAEA suggests, we want to work towards an independent system of guarantees, supplying all states with the nuclear fuel they will increasingly need as peaceful, low-carbon civil nuclear power expands enormously, which it will. Whether some people have doubts or not, it is almost certain that that will happen.
This is the background against which our decision is made today. It points to continual leverage and the use of the position which history has shaped for us as a recognised nuclear power, which means retaining a reduced and minimalised deterrent, as the Minister described it, to help us work towards these objectives in an intensely dangerous international environment. To abandon that capability by decisions or non-decisions now to let the whole system run down would leave us uninsured, unprotected against grim possibilities and uninfluential in curbing proliferation of nuclear weapons across the planet. That is not a legacy which anyone would care to leave to their children.
My Lords, last June, the Prime Minister called for “the fullest possible debate” on the renewal of the British nuclear deterrent and promised a White Paper to set the framework for that debate, with a decision to be taken before the end of this Parliament. The House of Commons Defence Committee responded by undertaking a series of inquiries, while sharply criticising the Ministry of Defence for its reluctance to co-operate by providing the information needed for a proper and open debate. The Liberal Democrats set up a working group, which will report to our spring conference in March, and which has taken evidence from independent experts on defence and foreign policy.
Meanwhile, the Government appear to be doing their best to close down the debate that they have opened. The hasty publication of this brief White Paper in mid-December compounded earlier rumours that a much longer and much more detailed White Paper would be published in the new year, which suggests a degree of confusion in the Government. The paper argues that we need to take crucial decisions now because a lead-in time of 17 years or more is needed before the successor system comes into service, and because the Trident system will cease to be fit for service 25 years after its introduction.
In his opening speech, the Minister appeared to be retreating a little. He said only that some decisions had to be taken now. We do not accept either of those assumptions. We accept that it is prudent in the current uncertain circumstances to invest in preparatory studies for a successor system. But the crucial decisions on this weapon system, as on others taken through the research and development stages, will come when keels have to be laid and major costs incurred, which the Government claim will be in five to seven years’ time. We argue that, with life extension of the current submarine system, it can be much later.
My noble friend Lord Garden, whose career has included direct engagement in the UK’s deterrent force and, later, responsibility for defence strategic planning, will expand on how and why the Trident system was planned for a longer operational life and is likely to remain operationally effective for considerably longer than the Government now suggest. My noble friend Lady Williams will say more about the important non-proliferation and arms control dimensions of decisions to maintain, reduce and, at some point, decide whether to renew.
We have to ask, therefore, why the Prime Minister is determined to press for this artificial decision, with an artificial timescale, now. Indeed, in a later chapter, the White Paper says only that,
“we plan shortly to commence detailed concept work”,
with the intention of placing a,
“contract for their detailed design by around 2012 to 2014”,
when more accurate cost estimates will be available. The major commitments on spending are still on the other side of two general elections from now. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister wants to make this part of his legacy, to commit his party to a major, long-term programme before he leaves office.
The way in which the initial call for debate was made suggested to some of us that Blair and Brown wanted to flush out old Labour opponents of the new Labour legacy, perhaps to provoke a contest for the succession in which they might be roundly defeated, seeking to use the nuclear issue to mark a symbolic divide within the Labour Party, in much the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, sought to use the deterrent to divide Social Democrats from Liberals some 20 years ago.
Then there was the question of the needs of BAE Systems, a company much favoured by Mr Blair’s Government, with its specialists pleading that commitments are needed now to maintain specialist submarine-building skills in Britain by maintaining a long-term order book in Barrow-in-Furness. We insist that there is enough time for an informed public debate, and it is not necessary—at least it is not possible—to reach an irrevocable decision now, before our current Prime Minister leaves office.
It is also desirable to promote the widest possible consensus across the parties on such a major investment, linked to the long-term security of the United Kingdom. Yet, this debate has started at the wrong end, with the weapons system, not with the foreign policy objectives it is intended to serve or the potential threats from which it may protect us.
Fifty years ago, when in the wake of the Suez debacle and the forced retreat from empire, the crucial decisions were taken to commit Britain to maintain its own nuclear deterrent, even at the cost of strategic dependence on the United States, the strongest argument advanced was one of status. Britain’s Conservative Government were determined to maintain our claim as a major world power, in spite of increasing difficulties in affording a weapons system that justified that claim.
Harold Wilson’s Labour Government from 1964 accepted that world-power status remained essential for Britain. Apart from the nuclear deterrent, you will recall how he clung to the post-imperial dream of maintaining British forces east of Suez, until an exchange rate crisis forced withdrawal. One of his defence Ministers, Christopher Mayhew, had by then resigned and joined the Liberals in protest at that absurd and wasteful obsession with global power and international status.
Without exception, all the experts who gave evidence to the Liberal Democrat working group dismissed the argument that Britain needs to maintain a nuclear deterrent in order to remain a great power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Sir Michael Quinlan was explicit in dismissing this argument in his International Affairs article last year. In the Prime Minister’s Plymouth speech, 10 days ago, there were disturbing echoes of a foreign policy based on “walking tall” and “punching above our weight”. I hope that we can all agree here that British defence spending should in no way be based on status or on weapons systems procured as a badge of status; British defence should serve the objectives of British foreign policy.
This Government lack a coherent foreign policy, however. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, persuasively argued in the debate on the Queen’s Speech that new Labour’s foreign policy had collapsed in the aftermath of the Iraq adventure. The Prime Minister has tested the US/UK special relationship to destruction, demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that dependence on Washington does not bring additional influence in Washington. The Government’s determination to take Britain “to the heart of Europe” faltered as they preferred to cultivate the Murdoch press, leaving them without political credit at home or abroad for the modest achievements we have made in European co-operation.
The first question in considering how vital procurement of a successor deterrent system is for Britain is whether we see this country’s long-term foreign policy as bound up with the projection of American power, as part of a multilateral European approach to global order, as standing alone in splendid isolation, or, like Switzerland, in non-combatant neutrality. I take it that no serious politician outside the ranks of the UK Independence Party foresees Britain’s future as one of splendid isolation. The question is whether our security, foreign policy and defence contribution will be made more within the transatlantic framework or the European one.
The Prime Minister’s Plymouth speech committed Britain to maintaining a close and necessarily dependent relationship with the United States. If Britain is to remain the loyal supporter of US policy wherever that may take us, most of all in managing the intricate politics of the Middle East and the Muslim world, it is arguable that we do not need our own deterrent. American nuclear weapons are capable enough to protect us. I suspect that for some the argument for renewal rests on the fear that the American umbrella may not be sufficiently reliable, however loyally we follow its lead, and that Britain, far closer to the Middle East than the continental United States, is an easier target for a radical anti-western state. For American neo-conservatives and their Europhobe British supporters, Britain is “Airstrip One” of the American empire, facing a continent sliding into becoming “Eurabia” as it succumbs to the Muslim threat. I note that one of the leading proponents of the “Eurabia” thesis has been invited by Edward Leigh MP to speak shortly to an all-party group in the Palace of Westminster.
In contrast, the Prime Minister’s Plymouth speech scarcely mentioned the European dimension to British foreign policy and defence in spite of the common approach that Britain, Germany and France have correctly taken towards Iran, in spite of our shared assumptions about the Middle East peace process, and in spite of the considerable contribution made by Britain towards European defence co-operation. It is common ground among many long-term defence planners that we can afford to maintain the capacity to project conventional forces beyond our region only through closer integration with our European neighbours. There is a contradiction between repeated admissions that Britain is unlikely ever again to be engaged in serious military operations without close co-operation with European or north American partners and continued silence on how an independent British nuclear deterrent fits in to such a pattern of ever closer collaboration.
There is also a contradiction between this growing co-operation with neighbouring states of similar weight and size and continuing dependence on the United States for the supply and maintenance of crucial components of our nuclear weapons system. One of the issues we need to explore in the public debate which the Prime Minister has now launched and is now trying to pre-empt is how far long-term dependence on the United States for our deterrent system carries with it political dependence; that is to say, reluctance to disagree with American policy, even when it cuts across British interests, for fear of US pressure on nuclear resupply and intelligence co-operation.
The risk of nuclear proliferation spreading from Israel and Iran across the Middle East now appears high. That justifies for the present the maintenance of a minimum nuclear deterrent as an insurance against a crisis in that region spilling across the Mediterranean to western Europe. Our party’s working group concluded that the cost of maintaining our current deterrent force was thus justifiable, that its operational life could be extended for a further five to 10 years at moderate cost, but that we could reduce both the number of boats and the number of warheads to three and 100 respectively, not only to contain costs but also to signal to other states that the British deterrent is a limited insurance against catastrophe, not a weapon for other purposes. Many noble Lords will have heard Richard Garwin of the US National Academy of Engineering on yesterday’s Radio 4 “Today” programme arguing on his way to give evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee that the life of the Vanguard submarines could be extended by 15 years or more without major additional expenditure.
Two questions remain for the extended public debate on which politicians of all parties should be embarking. First, what are the likely threats against which we need to insure; and secondly, how high will the insurance premium be, how large will be the cost of replacement and what are the opportunity costs of investing in nuclear weapons rather than conventional systems? A moment’s reflection makes it clear that North Korean nuclear weapons, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, suggested, are unlikely to threaten Britain or western Europe, or that a British deterrent would add anything to Chinese, American or Russian systems in containing that rogue regime. But we all recognise the potential threats from oil-rich but stability-poor states across west Asia. It must be the highest priority of British foreign policy over the next five to 10 years, before crucial spending commitments have to be made on building a replacement deterrent system, to work with like-minded states to bring greater stability to the Middle East and thus avoid disorder from that region spilling over across Europe.
The most depressing part of the Prime Minister’s Plymouth speech was his complete espousal of the American neo-conservative interpretation of the nature of the conflict and his insistence that we are engaged in a long war with a coherent enemy rather than struggling with a disordered region built on weak states and a younger generation in revolt against American hegemony.
Several of the experts who advised the Liberal Democrat working group spoke of an insurance premium as the correct analogy for a replacement nuclear deterrent. The calculation to be made involves a careful balance between the severity of the threat and the steepness of the cost. Procurement of three boats will moderate the cost to some extent; but, unless in the years that we gain through extending the life of the current Trident system, some alternative delivery system becomes available, the costs of replacement will threaten to squeeze conventional weapons systems out of the defence budget.
The Prime Minister’s answer in his Plymouth speech was simple: we must commit ourselves to a long-term increase, a further increase, in Britain’s defence spending. But he will no longer be in office to make the case for the higher taxation or lower civil spending that such a commitment implies. The opportunity costs of Trident replacement may thus be severe and will be justified only by the severity of the then threat to Britain. The advice that we received was that a moderate insurance premium was justifiable but that a steep premium against an unlikely ultimate risk, at the expense of other British contributions to global stability, was difficult to justify.
So let us open a wider debate on Britain’s foreign policy and on the place of nuclear deterrence in that foreign policy. Let us not shut down discussion by appeals to Britain’s post-imperial status or to our allegedly unique diplomatic wisdom and responsibilities. Britain does not stand alone as we face an insecure and unstable world. We need to discuss which partners we should work most closely with to meet which potential threats and what mix of deterrence and diplomacy will prove most useful in shaping our shared approach. The commitment to procure such a major weapons system should be taken only after such a debate.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, for introducing this debate.
As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, the decision regarding the future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent is a very serious matter. It requires the widest possible consultation, which is why we on the Bench of Bishops welcome the White Paper. I think that it is the first time that a British Government have initiated a public debate of this kind. Since the Attlee Government committed themselves to a nuclear programme, decisions about nuclear weapons have been taken by the Prime Minister, as the Minister indicated this afternoon, with perhaps some key Cabinet colleagues but probably not the full Cabinet.
That and much else in the White Paper is welcome. It is right to confine its arguments for the retention of a nuclear capability solely to the case for deterring nuclear threats and to resist the temptation to broaden its use to counter threats such as chemical and biological weapons. Also welcome are the proposed reductions in the stockpile of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal. These, and a readiness to reduce the number of submarines necessary to maintain this deterrent capability, underline the United Kingdom’s track record in progressively reducing its capability in line with its international obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. I also agree that the question of what constitutes a reasonable insurance policy in a dangerous and uncertain world is important and difficult. It is right that Governments should err on the side of caution.
No one would disagree that it is a fundamental responsibility of any Government to provide for the security of the United Kingdom and its citizens, now and for the future, against both real and potential threats, including nuclear aggression and blackmail. Security is the good that makes possible other goods, and the defence of the United Kingdom remains the first duty of the Government. Yet as other noble Lords have noted, since nuclear weapons belong by virtue of their terrifying power in a different category to any other weapon system, it is important to ask what kind of security they offer us, and in what circumstances, if any, their use or threat of use can be ethically justified.
It is that concern that I feel is insufficiently addressed by the White Paper. In paragraph 3.4, to which the Minister made oblique reference, the White Paper reasons:
“We deliberately maintain ambiguity about precisely when, how and at what scale we would contemplate use of our nuclear deterrent. We will not simplify the calculations of a potential aggressor by defining more precisely the circumstances in which we might consider the use of our nuclear capabilities. Hence, we will not rule in or out the first use of nuclear weapons”.
Of course, there is merit in keeping potential enemies guessing. Nevertheless, given the grave ethical issues involved with any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, it is legitimate to ask in what sorts of circumstances their use might be justified and proportionate in terms of the just war doctrine. The White Paper gives inadequate treatment of that legitimate question, which I believe must be asked if the public debate is to be meaningful.
Fear that making this information publicly available would somehow reduce the credibility of the United Kingdom’s deterrent is, in my view and that of others on the Bench of Bishops, overstated. Such reticence might have been excusable and understandable at the height of the Cold War, but I question its acceptability in today’s circumstances. The position of the Government is not necessarily shared by other comparably sized nuclear powers. President Chirac, for example, seems ready to discuss these issues more openly. The modernisation and adaptation of the French nuclear arsenal to strike at a potential aggressor’s political, economic and military power centres in a comparatively discriminate way marks a significant departure from the anti-cities strategy of the Cold War days. It is disappointing that a similar shift in strategy, and a move towards greater public transparency, is not reflected in this White Paper.
Central to the concern that I and other right reverend Prelates have is whether we can be assured that the war plan for Trident and any successor will be based only and wholly on an explicit counter-combatant targeting strategy, holding at risk military and related assets and keeping non-combatant casualties to a proportionate minimum. For us, that is a crucial question in the context of the ethical arguments against nuclear weapons, which are strikingly omitted from the interesting box 3.1, which sets out the Government’s response to various counter-arguments. Since that is probably the most widely held objection to nuclear deterrents, I find the omission very curious. Addressing this ethical concern would not require the Government to disclose details of targeting plans or precise details of the envisaged circumstances of use. All it would require is for the Government to indicate their overall strategy, including the parameters for the weapons’ use and the limits within which any targeting policy would be set. That would enable the Government to explain how their use would be consistent with the United Kingdom’s obligations in international law, as well as with ethical principles, particularly the just war requirements that any use of weapons should be proportionate to the objective to be achieved, and discriminate in order to minimise non-combatant casualties.
The Government’s reluctance to engage in such discussions leaves it vulnerable to the charge—from those opposed to a nuclear deterrent—that the use, or very possession, of nuclear weapons is immoral and somehow coarsens the moral fabric of the nation. If the Government are unwilling to say anything further about the terms under which they might use their deterrent, how are Parliament and the wider public meant to evaluate the efficacy and utility of such an instrument, even assuming that they are prepared to accept the principle of nuclear deterrence?
As I have already said, the Government are to be congratulated on publishing this White Paper. For any debate to be meaningful, the Government need to provide additional information regarding their war plans for Trident. It is important to remember that the credibility of the national deterrence strategy depends to a significant extent on public backing, since an assessment of that will play into the calculations of potential aggressors.
We on this Bench want to avoid being drawn into some of the party-political issues touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for example. We are aware of the complexity of the profound issues underlying this debate. Our concern is that amid the proper arguments already shaping the contributions of noble Lords, the hugely important ethical concerns continue to be explored rigorously in this House.
My Lords, I would like to follow the right reverend Prelate in one respect. He referred at the very end to an ethical case being advanced, which will provide an opportunity for the public to decide whether they want to replace the deterrent. The words he used were, I think, public backing.
The Liberal Benches say that there is an element of surprise in our being bounced into this. In 2005, for the first time in 30 years, I was not a parliamentary candidate. I therefore had the opportunity to read the Labour manifesto, something I usually tried to avoid doing until after the election, when I had to defend it or continue to try to change it. Significantly, the manifesto said—quite clearly and without question—that we would maintain the deterrent. The implication was that we would take whatever action was necessary to sustain that maintenance. I say this for several reasons. When I first stood for Parliament in 1974 and 1979, I did so as a unilateralist fighting on a multilateralist manifesto. I only answered questions on the subject and did not, at that time, proclaim very much because, by and large, people were not interested.
In the elections of 1983 and 1987, when my views coincided with those of the manifesto, I had—in the first of those elections, at least—the experience of getting helpful suggestions from my constituents on their doorsteps. In 1987 we anticipated some of the problems and went through the kind of somersaults and political gymnastics that we have seen from the Liberal Benches today. We committed ourselves to roughly the same defence budget but were going to spend it on conventional weapons. We would perhaps try to appease the defence constituencies by having a defence diversification agency. We would nevertheless be able to argue that we could turn swords into ploughshares; that there would be a world agreement that, somehow, everyone else would follow a British gesture.
Nearly all these points fell on deaf ears for the British electorate. I have the scars of visits to Barrow, Devonport and Rosyth, where I was greeted as a friend who was misguided on the main issue; a number of my constituents worked there at the time. It was a somewhat chastening experience when we went through the public opinion poll post-election analysis and discovered how difficult the issue was. The public were quite happy with a nuclear deterrent and felt comfortable with it. Despite the general approval I received espousing a unilateralist manifesto at Labour Party meetings across the country, it was not reciprocated by the rest of the British body politic when I got out into the world in general.
When my noble friends Lord Kinnock and Lord Clarke of Hampstead, who is not in his place today, and Gerald Kaufman and I started visiting the decision-making centres of the other nuclear powers—Washington, Paris and Moscow—and spoke to the Chinese in London, we were startled by the indifference with which they greeted our willingness to give up our nuclear arsenal. They felt that it would not be a bad thing, but would make not one whit of difference to their nuclear capability or willingness to participate in disarmament negotiations one way or the other.
It could be argued that 1987-88 marked the emergence of new Labour on foreign and security policy. We began to see how we could put together the kind of policies mentioned today by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, and others: the balance between a defence policy which people accepted and would be prepared to vote for, and one which continued to provide the United Kingdom with an opportunity, as a member of the permanent five, to meet a variety of challenges and help with a number of initiatives in dealing with rogue states and the like.
Some argue that the US providing certain elements of our nuclear deterrent somehow prejudices its independence. It would be difficult for any member of NATO to have any independence in any of its defence commitments or capabilities if it sought to do so only with nationally produced military equipment. The Americans provide important parts of our deterrent, but the manner in which we deploy and threaten to use it—if that is the correct expression—is in no way prejudiced by our relationship with the Americans. Indeed, I remember talking to the Soviets in Moscow about this, and they said, “Well, we know that you are far closer than the French to the Americans. We know that you walk roughly in step with the Americans, but we can never be sure that you would choose to use your weapons in concert with them or that they would have the power of veto over what you wished to do with these weapons”. This is the heart of the British deterrent strategy—the doctrine of uncertainty, which says that it is up to our potential threateners to work out what we would or would not do with our weapons.
Equally important is the fact that we have a weapons system which is damn near undetectable. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, made the point that it might be difficult in certain circumstances with only three boats, if all of them were in base at the one time, to know whether or not we had a capability. As someone who has always been supportive of the three-boat concept—and the noble Lord spoke about advances in technology—I think the ease of maintenance is that much greater now that we probably would be able to have such a system without creating the problem that he suggested.
The point I am really getting at here is that of the virtual invulnerability of the British nuclear deterrent; the fact that it cannot be detected; the fact that it can be anywhere in the world and can fire at anywhere in the world. If we are to talk about a weapons system which is flexible—we are not going to the old sub-strategic arguments, and the Minister eschewed the concept of sub-strategic weapons today, quite correctly in my view—what we have to recognise is that we need to be able to deploy the new boats with only a limited number of warheads, perhaps only one, and that we would need to have a sufficiency of decoys.
This is where the debate has to be conducted in public, so that people get an idea of what nuclear strategy is about. I am not asking this evening for a clear and explicit commitment that we will have at least 11 decoys on at least one of the rockets, but this is something which ought to come out in the debate. I know there is a natural reticence in the MoD for talking in public in an adult way to people it does not always regard as adults, but we have to be given the benefit of the doubt. I notice the Minister is looking at me quizzically. If I can play the old soldier in a civilian sense here, I have been listening to excuses from the MoD for many, many years and it tells you usually less than you want and certainly a good deal less than it needs to let you know.
That is not to say that this process is not an exciting one. Politically, we have an opportunity. In the 1970s when people who might be speaking today were members of Cabinet, decisions were, as far as one can understand, at least hinted at in Cabinet. Preparatory work was done before 1980, before the Conservatives committed themselves to the Trident programme in the fullest sense. We did start very early on. That is significant and should be put on the record to clear up some of the nonsense spoken by the Liberals as far as the Blair-Brown thing is concerned. It was in fact the Chancellor who gave a commitment post the election, in advance of the Prime Minister making the point. I see the Minister is nodding and I am grateful for his concession on that point.
What I want to say in closing is this: we have an opportunity here to secure a minimal deterrence which is nevertheless credible and would enable us as a country to continue to play a sensible part in trying to deal with the rogue states, as members of the permanent five and others have. It will enable us at the same time to work with our long-standing ally the United States, but equally importantly it will give us the opportunity within the European Union to work with France on those areas of non-proliferation or rogue-state limitation in which the European Union has been doing a lot of good work. We know that there is the economic strength of the federal republic, but when that is joined with the United Kingdom and France in dealing with nuclear rogue states, there is a possibility for fresh European thinking. I believe that we can argue a bit—and only a bit—about timescales and about how long we can extend the life.
The Radio 4 interview yesterday morning was very interesting but what the Minister said was equally interesting. He pointed out that the US systems are somewhat different from our own and that life extension may not be exactly the same. We need a great deal more information and it would be helpful if the MoD could be sufficiently forthcoming to the Defence Select Committee in the Commons to allow, if not that committee, at least the rest of us to make a judgment when we see it.
The Government have made a good start. The White Paper and the speeches today have shown a breadth of vision, a degree of commitment and a willingness to listen and to debate. This is the start of a lengthy process and I am very grateful to the Minister for the constructive way in which he has introduced the debate.
My Lords, I join those who have welcomed the White Paper. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is always interesting, left me somewhat confused. I am not wholly clear on the Liberal party's policy on nuclear weapons. Primarily, the noble Lord seemed to be saying that, on almost every occasion on which a decision is made about having or enhancing our nuclear capability, it is made on the wrong grounds. I am not clear whether it follows that the decisions are wrong. Others will speak from the Liberal Benches, so perhaps by the end of the debate we shall have a clearer idea of their position.
I have always been an unashamed supporter of nuclear weapons. Anyone who has looked at what they can or could do will see the point of them. Recently, I came across one of the most interesting collateral notes to history when reading the diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles, who had been the private secretary to King George VI. Many months before the end of the war, Sir Edward Appleton, later a British Nobel laureate, went to brief the King on the progress of the atomic bomb. He said that the bomb was not likely to be ready in time to be used against the Germans but probably would be ready to use against the Japanese. He was asked whether that would have a great effect. His reply was, as quoted by Sir Alan Lascelles, that,
“a couple of those on Japan and the war would be over within days: no doubt about that”.
It has always been apparent what a devastating and total weapon a nuclear weapon is. Its capability to keep the peace, once used and demonstrated in that way, was proved over the 50 years of the Cold War. That was a period when, very rightly, the West decided to contain rather than confront Soviet communism. Of course, that policy of containment was originally laid down by George Kennan in his famous long telegram of March 1946, which was sent to the American State Department. It set the tone for policy on the Soviet Union thereafter.
We have an independent, state-of-the-art nuclear weapons system. I totally accept what the Minister said—it ties in with research that I have done—that it is genuinely and totally independent. That means that we can use it, no one can stop us using it, and no one can make us use it. If we were to give it up, it is quite certain that we would never get it back. The costs would be too great and the decision would be too big.
We do not really know what the threats to peace are likely to be; we cannot begin to tell what will unravel over the period in which this decision-making framework is set out in the White Paper; therefore, it would be most unwise to assume that the need for such weapons could vanish. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I am very interested in the Prime Minister's speech at Plymouth on 12 January. I shall quote one part of it, where he speaks of Islamic fundamentalism,
“what we were and are confronted with is of a far more fundamental character than we supposed ... We face something more akin to revolutionary communism in its early and most militant phase. It is global … It has states or at least parts of the governing apparatus of states that give it succour”.
That is just one example of the dimension of the unforeseen threats around the world. Incidentally, there is a lesson to be learnt from the Cold War period on dealing with international terrorism because probably the key word should again be “containment” rather than “confrontation”.
The crucial thing about a nuclear weapon is that it has to go off when and where it is wanted and not otherwise. I am fairly doubtful about whether the newcomers to nuclear-weapons capability have weapons that remotely compare in quality, reliability and certainty, let along in invulnerability, with those of countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Russia and, probably, China. At the time of maximum tension between India and Pakistan, it was rumoured that had the politicians of either country invited their generals to use the weapons, they would have declined to do so.
The question we have to ask is; what are we going to do about these submarines? As I understand it, the contention in the White Paper and in what the Minister said is not that the submarines are technologically obsolete—they are still state of the art, invulnerable, unfindable and fully effective—but that they are likely to become physically worn out. Therefore, I wonder whether we need to spend a great deal of money on a new design of submarine. I know that there are questions about it, and many Members of this House heard the “Today” programme yesterday. The question is whether we can modify, repair or replace certain components in the Vanguard submarines. That is one way forward, and I hope that in due course we can hear more about that, although the Minister said that that had been discounted.
One of the problems that has always caused over-run on major military expenditure projects is that the spec has constantly been changed and updated. Indeed, one of the reasons why Poseidon and Trident stuck pretty closely to their original budgets was that we were buying off-the-shelf things from the Americans. We knew exactly where we were. I hope that the Government are, among other things, considering building two, three, four—or whatever number may be correct—new Vanguard submarines, which we know how to build and that could by definition be used for a further 25 or 30 years. That could have a significant impact on the cost.
I suppose the cost factor concerns us most. The cost of our nuclear deterrent is approximately 4 per cent of our defence budget, which is about 2.5 per cent of our GDP. My worry is always—this is not a great criticism of the Government—that Governments are very inclined to undertake military commitments and then find that the cost of those commitments is greater than the resources they have available, either the equipment they have ready to use or the opportunity cost of the equipment they will need. Last week, we discussed the problem that is possibly looming of the cost of the two new aircraft carriers. We have two or three alternatives on military expenditure: we spend more of our GDP—that has its own problems, but it is a possibility—alternatively, we undertake less in the way of military commitments; or we invite others to share in the cost of military endeavours that we undertake, which are for the benefit of the world as a whole. The latter possibility is one which I would like to see explored much further. In that regard it is particularly notable that, when we spent some £2.5 billion on the first Gulf War, we got back £2 billion from others for whom it was an advantage that we undertook the war. So far, on Iraq, we have spent some £4 billion and we are not likely to get any of it back. I ask the Government to think of the renewal of this weapons system in the context of some of those issues.
My Lords, in the context of today's debate many of us have been here before and carry some luggage, and, yes, scars. It is nearly 50 years since I attended the meeting at Central Hall, Westminster, on 17 February 1958, that effectively launched the campaign for nuclear disarmament. The distinguished platform included Bertrand Russell, JB Priestly, AJP Taylor and Alan Taylor, my former history tutor, who was in coruscating rhetorical form.
The audience was ecstatic, but I moved from agnosticism to the reluctant acceptance of nuclear weapons, upset by the militant unilateral campaigners and, more important, the clear threat from the Soviet Union to Britain’s security and freedom. I never accepted the aphorism that it was “Better red than dead”.
Almost a whole generation later, in July 1980, I replied in the House of Commons as shadow Secretary of State for Defence to the Conservative Government’s Statement that they intended to replace the existing Polaris nuclear deterrent with Trident. In a cautious response, I said that the Government's case had not been made but that I did not object to the principle. Many angry Labour Back-Benchers were not pleased, saying that they were in “utter despair” and that it was a “disgrace”. Shortly afterwards I was removed from my role in a Labour Party’s television programme and replaced by Robin Cook, the then acceptable voice of unilateral disarmament; in due course I was sacked from defence by the Labour leader. How times have changed.
To complete the picture and to avoid misleading, I should point out that in the 1980s there were shifting opinions within my Social Democratic Party and between the SDP and the Liberals. We should not be surprised that bitter arguments over awesome nuclear weapons have continued for so long. Decisions involve acute ethical, financial, social and technological issues and changing international circumstances and threats. In high politics, taking risks over matters of life and death raises very difficult questions of judgment. But, in reflecting over half a century, I welcome the White Paper as it sets out plainly enough the areas of choice. In my view, if we are to have another generation of nuclear deterrents, the best prospect is a modestly updated Trident D5 missile system resting on a new class of submarines.
As Britain is a small island, a nuclear deterrent is less exposed and vulnerable under water than on land or in the air. It is also better to build from the experience of Trident and draw on the United States’ facilities than to choose cruise missiles, although submarine-launched weapons may have been a serious alternative once upon a time.
We cannot safely forecast the cost of the new boats, given our mixed financial record in dealing with complex weapons systems, but the procurement of Polaris and Trident was broadly within budget. Thus cost should be manageable despite the opportunity cost, including new claims within the budget, Britain having chosen to maintain its extended international frontiers. I hope that there will be only three boats rather than four, and fewer warheads, but I am not competent to weigh those arguments.
The central question, prior to the merits of alternative nuclear systems, is whether Britain should retain a nuclear deterrent at all when the Vanguard-class submarines begin to leave service in the 2020s or possibly beyond. We cannot say with confidence whether Britain would have moved from wartime research to the procurement of its own nuclear weapons had there been no Cold War, but from the 1950s until the Berlin Wall came down, Britain’s case for nuclear weapons rested on the dangers from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. It follows that, from the early 1990s, it seemed that there might be no need for a new generation of weapons.
The paradox is that we have moved from a bipolar balance of nuclear power—and, I agree, of terror—that was carefully calculated and relatively stable after the Cuban missile crisis, despite those new tensions over the deploying of medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe in the 1980s, to a twilight zone in which so much more is unpredictable. The White Paper refers to the ambitions of North Korea and Iran, but not to the long-term future of China or the flexible muscles of Russia, with Putin and his successors. Today’s terrorism, with which we are preoccupied, can be consolidated into maverick or rogue states with nuclear weapons as more than status symbols.
I share the White Paper’s view that no one, hand on heart, can wholly discount the possibility of a major threat to Britain through our grandchildren’s lives. Despite recent foreboding, we may some time find ourselves living through the sunny uplands of unprecedented peace. But, taking the most optimistic view, the ultimate risk—and the danger to Britain—would remain. I recognise and respect all those who have long been opposed to nuclear weapons on ethical grounds, at every time and in every place. Yet I am not persuaded that, if nuclear weapons were, reluctantly, acceptable in the Cold War, they cannot be morally acceptable, sadly and reluctantly, in the years ahead.
There is a serious argument—to adapt the memorable phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd—that it is now time for Britain to punch below its weight. A post-Iraq parallel would be the ending of Britain’s imperial role following the Suez debacle, but even if Britain were to choose to shrink its international frontiers there would still be the need to protect the homeland from external threats.
I share the view that there is no need for the Government to make a final decision on Trident now or for several years. There is time not only for a full and extended debate but, given the operational gap before the existing submarines are phased out, to wait for a decision after the next election. However, I assume that the Prime Minister and his putative successor would like to tidy up the loose ends before he moves on, whether we like that or not.
Given the publication of the White Paper and a debate in both Houses, the momentum of opinion towards an early decision will gather. On such vital, critical security matters, the public may soon want to know exactly where policy-makers stand. I would like to believe that, in the gap, an unexpected successful international initiative on arms control and multilateral disarmament will justify having second thoughts on the thrust of the White Paper, but we should not deceive ourselves about the likelihood of that.
My Lords, my noble friend has made a very dignified and serious speech, which deserves close attention.
The issue before us is summed up in the words of the White Paper:
“The investment required to maintain”,
“will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities that our armed forces need”.
Were that to be true, I would find it much easier to be enthusiastic in support of the White Paper, but all experience shows that that is not true.
I remember that in 1968, when I had a small responsibility for the Royal Navy, it was genuinely believed by the admirals that the Polaris programme was outwith the rest of the defence budget and that the naval budget and capabilities would be judged quite separately. That was wrong then and it has been wrong ever since. Let us be clear: that statement is historically incorrect and it is very unlikely to be true in future.
I then looked at what is the Royal Navy at present. In 1968, we had our first Polaris boat going out on patrol. We could claim, broadly, 200 naval ships; we had a substantial Navy. In 1980, Royal Navy personnel numbered 75,000. There were 8,000 to 10,000 Marines and a hundred capital ships. What is it today? There are roughly 33,000 Royal Naval personnel, 6,000 Royal Marines and 35 major ships. The Royal Navy is very close to lacking all-round capability and capacity.
We have to face that. If we are really to make this decision as early as it is being asked for, it must coincide with the public expenditure review for 2007, not come before it. It needs to be taken into account in what we are going to do about, for example, the two carriers that have been consistently promised. It needs to be taken into account against the other service budgets. The Navy cannot be considered in isolation. Many naval personnel are involved in Afghanistan at the moment, if we consider the Royal Marines and others.
All of us are in a way responsible for the fact that we have not kept the covenant with the Armed Forces. I must say that I object to the business of using naval ships as a background for political speeches. We have not done that in this country before; we have always kept that sort of thing to when we are actually operational abroad. It appears that the Prime Minister, after 10 years, accepts that he has not lived up to that covenant. If so, that is a very welcome change, but let actions speak louder than words and let us now look at the budget.
Do we really accept in this House that we do not have enough Chinooks in Afghanistan and that, as a consequence, some of our soldiers die? Do we really accept the story about armaments, body armour, and so on? We can all argue about the aim—there is no question that anyone intended the situation—but it worked out so that many people believe that we were not putting basic resources into that fairly minor item of expenditure.
We also need to look at many other aspects. I start with the belief that the defence budget at the moment is seriously inadequate. I am therefore being asked to take on a new commitment. I make absolutely no secret of my belief, and never have, that a ballistic weapons system is the best form of deterrent, provided that the warheads are sophisticated enough to be able to penetrate ABM defences. At least I have a track record on this. I argued in 1977, 1978 and 1979 that we had to be very careful before we committed ourselves to a belief that a deterrent was credible only if it could penetrate ABM defences, because I genuinely believed then, and events have subsequently borne this out in spades, that we in this country did not have the capability to keep ahead of the complicated and sophisticated changes in ABM defences.
Just look what happened to the Chevaline programme, which started in effect under Harold Wilson’s Labour Government in 1967-68 as the Antelope programme. It became the Super Antelope programme, and then became the Chevaline programme. In 1972, which was probably the first time you could reasonably estimate its costs, it was going to cost £175 million. It ended up costing more than £1 billion—the cost escalated year by year; I could read the figures to the House—which is also a staggering increase in real terms.
The House of Commons Select Committee report of 2006-07 on the provisions for nuclear submarines quite sensibly looked at all aspects, including asking whether there was sufficient capacity to build and maintain them and whether Rolls-Royce had the nuclear capacity. It was an extremely good report. I came across this little statement on the Select Committee’s visit to Aldermaston and seeing the A91 building, the integrated radioactive liquid effluent treatment plant, which was completed but never used—a loss of expenditure of £147 million. I simply thought to myself that that was another sign that the programme, which is now a different Chevaline programme or whatever equivalent, demonstrates yet again our incapacity to contain our costs.
On the basis of the argument as we currently see it, I reluctantly understand why the Government have taken the decision that they have. Certainly, the decision to participate in the Trident D5 life-extension programme, at a cost of some £250 million, is prudent, and keeps the options open. However, the section on dual use in the White Paper is extremely depressing. I believe that, in our economic situation, we must consider dual use for almost everything. The section on cruise missiles is one paragraph, with an absurd statement that:
“Any programme to develop and manufacture a new cruise missile would cost far more than retaining the Trident D5 missile”.
What does that mean? Does it mean that Britain will develop a cruise missile by itself? We have never yet done so; we have very sensibly bought from the Americans. Are we then saying that the Americans will not make any changes to their cruise missiles? Why are they spending as much money as they are on hypersonic technology? It is perfectly possible that we may see a cruise missile of greater sophistication and perhaps particularly of greater speed.
I happened to be in Belgrade a few years ago. I drove down the street and saw the Ministry of Defence, in which, for my sins, I had to spend some time in 1992-93 talking to the then Serbian military. The whole place had been completely destroyed. The buildings on either side were completely intact. I went further down the same street and saw the same thing with the Ministry of the Interior. I remember our Ministry of Defence telling me in 1978 that cruise missiles were inaccurate and unproven technology, and that was why the MoD could not make any commitment to it. Let us at least admit when we have made a mistake. The arguments have not been truthfully used under successive Governments, in part because of far too much secrecy. The present Government deserve some credit for coming up with an early proposal and giving us the potential—after all, we are only taking note of this White Paper—to explore it much more fully.
As I understand it, the Government looked at dual use of Trident—whether one could put a battery of cruise missiles on those large boats, which one has to have if one is going to use Trident missiles, so one could have a cruise missile battery and also the possibility of being able to deploy Royal Marines in it—and they came out against it. I can understand that, with a dedicated programme and the possibility of only three submarines, but I am told by people who should know that at no stage has there been a serious look at dual use of cruise missiles and at no stage has there been a serious look at where new cruise missile technology could take us. That is not good enough. It means that we are not looking at all the options. The only justification for that would be if one had decided that any nuclear deterrent has to penetrate ABM defences.
First, let us remember the Polaris situation. The Polaris was not able to penetrate Soviet ABM defences in the view of the then-Chief of Defence Staff from November 1975 as relayed to Ministers and as revealed in documents that are in the public domain until Chevaline was deployed for the first time in the summer of 1982. There was a seven-year period during which time, first, the Ministry of Defence tried—in fact I believe that it succeeded—to stop the then Chancellor of the Exchequer knowing that there was this gap; and secondly, there was no overt debate about the question. Of course we had to keep it private. One was not in those days able to let the Soviet Union know that one had doubts about one’s own deterrent capacity, so there are limits, but now it is a completely different situation. Some of the language is as though the Cold War is still continuing.
What was needed to penetrate Soviet ABM defences and the argument about the Moscow criterion was the linchpin of the debates in 1978-79, yet they had to be kept private. Now we can openly discuss the question and it is not yet apparent for me whether that is the Prime Minister’s criterion: that he wants a missile to be able to land on any country anywhere from any naval space. If we had all the money of the United States of course we would sign up to it tomorrow: that is a reasonable deterrent force. The Government can claim—they deserve some credit for it—that they have substantially reduced all the so-called tactical strategic nuclear weapons; taken them right out. They are wise and sensible for doing so. This is the start, not the end of a debate. If we replace the present Vanguard class I hope very much that the type of submarine is different from the one that we are currently imagining.
It is not an appropriate response to mirror the situation of the government decision, which I broadly supported, to replace Trident in the early 1980s. We would be much wiser to start to think afresh on all those different questions. I do not mind taking a decision in principle that at the moment that looks the best option, which are much the same words as the previous speaker used, but I would not want to close down a cheaper option, particularly if I find out, as is highly likely, that we have insufficient money for the defence budget and for the maintenance of a credible Royal Navy.
My Lords, let me make it clear that I support the retention and ultimately the replacement of the Trident system. I notice that quite a few speakers have talked about abandoning the sub-strategic concept. I am not sure that that is necessarily such a good idea. I suspect that it is being covered by the present Government’s position by stretching the concept of what constitutes a strategic deterrent rather than the complete abandonment of the other. In the world of changing threats it is perhaps overly restrictive to rule out sub-strategic as opposed to tactical use of nuclear weapons.
I pay tribute to the many valuable people working for us at Aldermaston and Burghfield. I was lucky enough to be responsible for them for a few years when I was in the MoD. We have talked about our relationship with the US in the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent. It is important to stress that this is not a one-way street. Our work is of value to the US just as its work is of value to us. It is therefore salutary that we have spent a considerable amount of money over the past few years on improving the facilities at these sites to ensure that we can continue to verify that our nuclear deterrent works properly in the absence of the ability to test it. In addition, we have invested in the skills which, as the nuclear industry in Britain runs down, are increasingly difficult to retain in this country. It is vital for us to retain these skills or we will lose the ability to manage and maintain our deterrent.
We have been told that the long-term thinking needed for the replacement of Trident requires an early decision. It is perhaps more accurate to say that over the lifetime of any long-term weapon system, decisions are constantly being made on the relative merits of retention, refurbishment and replacement of that system. I am not absolutely convinced yet that the relative merits of refurbishment and replacement have been fully explored. It is worthy of note that the US, as was acknowledged by the Minister, with its vastly greater resources, still seeks to push the replacement date for its submarine fleet as far into the future as is practicable—I think that 2045 has been mentioned.
It is hard to credit that at some time around 2020 the bottom will drop out of all our submarines and they will no longer be of any use. Submarines are designed with a minimum life and are built to a very high standard. It must therefore be a logical engineering decision to extend that life. If, however, Trident must be replaced and the only viable option is a new fleet of submarines, so be it. But let us explore every viable choice first to ensure that we reach the most cost-effective solution. Refurbishment of the existing fleet must surely be the most attractive option. Modification of the Astute class submarine, despite the delay in bringing them into use, must also be fully considered. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, mentioned the possible utility of cruise missiles. Of course, the great problem is their range, but, as the noble Lord said, there is no reason why, given an extended life for the present fleet, we might not be able to design a missile which will be far more adaptable, far cheaper to develop and, ultimately, of far greater utility than the present system.
I do not intend detaining noble Lords for long. Resources are finite. I passionately support the doctrine of expeditionary force, which has been outlined in successive defence papers. The deployment of our people to conflicts which are often far from our shores ensures that they remain the best fighting men and women in the world. For their quality and morale to be maintained, they must have the tools and rewards for the job. We require adequate numbers of people and pay that is commensurate with the risks they run on our behalf. Soldiers who run the risk of being killed for six months of each year when they are deployed probably deserve much greater rewards than if they are sitting at home indulging in weekend war games. They also require proper accommodation, and sea and air cover. It is unthinkable that an expeditionary force can be mounted without the proposed aircraft carriers. They are expensive. Equally, the heavy lift that we need by air is expensive. The rapid effect system and future soldier technology will cost billions. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, it is difficult to imagine that decisions on the replacement of Trident can be taken in isolation. Of course they cannot. If the defence budget is not to be expanded to cover these many needs, the money has to come from somewhere else—it does not grow on trees. The list of requirements is endless. Resources are finite. If we wish to do everything that we say we are going to do, we must have these resources. Surely, we cannot contemplate replacing Trident at the expense of the men and women who carry out such valuable work for us every day.
My Lords, I start by declaring my interests. I work for an American defence contractor, Curtis-Wright. I also work for Leafield Engineering, a small defence company in Corsham.
I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford that we need a credible deterrent. He went on to say that we should be doing everything we can to enforce the non-proliferation treaty. In view of the number of states that have become nuclear weapon states, I am afraid that I do not share his optimism. I think that the genie has come out of the bottle and I do not think it will be possible to put it back in again. I would make a rather gloomy forecast that, in 10 years’ time, there will be more nuclear weapon states than there are today. That is why it is even more important that we have a credible deterrent.
I share my noble friend Lord Marlesford’s worries about affordability. I would also like to pay great tribute to the extremely good speech from the noble Lord, Lord Owen. The Government are making the commitment that no conventional capability will be threatened by the whole idea of having a nuclear deterrent. I do not think that that bears inspection. The cost of the nuclear programme has never previously been separately identified in the defence budget, and we know that there has been a very difficult relationship over the past few years between the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence. I suspect that it will all get merged in together.
I am concerned that the Minister said that the cost of this is £15 billion to £20 billion over 15 years. As has already been said, the Government’s record on major construction programmes has not been great. One thinks of the Dome, the Scottish Parliament building and the Olympic Games, all of which seem to vastly exceed the original estimate. I am sure that the Minister will say that that has nothing to do with defence. But what about the Astute submarine programme? The Astute submarine was a relatively bog-standard submarine compared with Trident or a Trident replacement. The cost of that has escalated massively as well. As we have gone through a long period of not developing nuclear weapons, we will have to rebuild a quite massive skills base if we are going eventually to be in the business of building a replacement for Trident.
I thought that the Prime Minister’s remarks were pretty cool when he said that we should now be looking at significant increases in the defence budget. As the Minister pointed out earlier, however, we have actually seen an increase in 1.4 per cent a year in real terms, which I do not call significant at all. During that time, the Prime Minister has committed us to wars in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. I do not believe that the costs of those wars have been met. I would very much like to know whether the cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fully funded by the Treasury. If the answer to that is yes, it certainly does not tie in with what I have heard from our Armed Forces.
When we come to plan defence expenditure in future, it is optimistic to think that we will see significant increases in defence expenditure. Against that backdrop, we have seriously to consider the affordability of a massive programme such as this. As was said earlier, we need to see a capability to fight wars on two fronts at the same time—a capability that we have now, or are trying to meet now. To fulfil what we are doing today in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need more infantry than we have now; we need close air support; we need armoured vehicles, which we do not have—some are coming on stream but it is taking time—and we need heavy lift helicopters. All this is very expensive to find, but as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, it does make the difference between whether our soldiers live or die. I think that this is absolutely critical.
At the moment we are cursed with the problem of trying to pay for the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft—which I have to admit was ordered under a Conservative Government, but at a much earlier time, for a conflict which we are not at all threatened by now. However, that is a massive expenditure which is making it extremely difficult to pay for the things that we actually need to conduct the wars that we are involved in in Iraq and Afghanistan. If one believes the press speculation, there is serious concern over whether the two carriers which are supposed to be coming through are going to happen at all.
In the short term, the Treasury has a serious problem. It has massive borrowings to try to reduce, and the public expenditure growth rate for which it will be paying will probably be slowed considerably. Against that backdrop, it is difficult to see increases in defence expenditure. I do not think it is going to happen; indeed, I do not think it would happen under a Government of any colour. The priorities of schools and hospitals always seem to be far greater than those of defence in the world in which we live today. I hope that the Government will look seriously at cheaper alternatives. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made the point about cruise missiles. I do not understand why they have been written off as a very expensive option. While you would have to design a special nuclear warhead to fit on the missiles, enormous sums would be saved because you would not have to build new submarines to fire them. That is because we are firing conventional cruise missiles from conventional hunter-killer submarines today. Therefore I cannot believe that it would not be a much cheaper option.
When I raised this point with the Leader of the House, she was advised by her noble friend the Defence Minister that cruise missiles can be shot down. I felt a bit winged by that so I talked to some American friends of mine who actually designed the Tomahawk cruise missile and asked whether it is possible to shoot these things down. Perhaps the Defence Minister was thinking back to the time of the Gulf War when the missiles were extremely basic. The only way to guide them to their targets in Baghdad was by taking them down a street and turning right at the traffic lights. The Iraqis quickly got on to that and set up anti-aircraft guns to shoot them down. Today cruise missiles fly in under the radar. They are then taken to high altitudes and can be brought down at any point of the compass straight onto the target. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out that they are extremely accurate because at the last minute television cameras are used to guide them to their target. So I do not accept that we have seriously considered the cheaper option of putting a nuclear warhead on to a cruise missile. Moreover, as has been discussed, the technology of the missiles will continue to improve and their weaponry will get ever more sophisticated.
I sympathise with noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches because I am not sure that the question of extending the life expectancy of the Trident fleet has been fully explored. There is just too much differing opinion on this to accept the rather cavalier dismissal that we cannot look at Trident going on for 15 years longer than was originally anticipated. If that were the case, again we would see the technology improving as well. Therefore I have deep reservations and concerns about spending the vast sums of money being talked about because I do not think these plans will be separately funded by the Treasury, rather it will be our troops on the front line who pay the price.
My Lords, before the great debate on Trident started, we were reminded by the bishops of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches of what a terrible weapon it is. It is important to keep recalling that. It is said that, when the first test of a nuclear weapon took place at Alamogordo, the lead scientist at the time, Robert Oppenheimer, said under his breath these words from the Hindu Upanishads:
“I am come, Kali, destroyer of worlds, brighter than a thousand suns”.
I mention that because, in the initial period of nuclear warfare, the main argument advanced to President Truman and others, and which has been quoted in this debate, was that a weapon of such immense destructive power would bring the war to an end very quickly. Indeed, after Nagasaki and Hiroshima that is what happened. It was regarded as a weapon beyond all the weapons that human beings had known about until then.
In a second period, to which my noble friend Lord Rodgers and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred, the Cold War, the nuclear weapon was essentially justified by the fact that it deterred the use of other nuclear weapons. All of us remember the title of that policy: mutually assured destruction. The moral argument for nuclear weapons was simply that they would never have to be deployed, because if they were, the response would be totally destructive. There is a sense in which, in both these periods, there was a rational argument to be made.
One of the things that troubles me slightly about this debate is that the assumption made from the very beginning that deterrence was a rational response to a rational attack may no longer hold good. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, talked about maniacal power. We have to recognise that at least some element of terrorism may not be deterred in any way by the prospect of destruction. It might strangely even be attracted by it, so powerful are some of the nihilistic and, indeed, death-loving elements that we now confront. It is a shame that in this debate we have so little addressed the nature of terrorism as distinct from the old-fashioned nuclear attack that is now probably highly unlikely. If we address the issue of terrorism, for a moment at least, one of the claims on our budget has to be the absolute control over existing nuclear materials and restricting and, indeed, stopping access to those materials by utterly irresponsible groups. Yet we as a country contribute extremely little towards such efforts to control the spread of nuclear materials. As a country we have not particularly favoured suggestions such as the fissile material cut-off, the nuclear fuel bank or the reduction in warning times of existing nuclear weapons, all of which would be a very important part of making the world a safer place.
This debate has shown two great holes in the Government’s White Paper, the first of which was effectively illustrated by my noble friend Lord Owen and the noble Lord, Lord Moonie. These raise huge questions about whether the country can afford to maintain a massive renewal of the nuclear deterrent and at the same time maintain its existing conventional forces in anything resembling proper operational capacity.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness moves on, can she explain whether, in her understanding, terrorist groups have a nuclear capability or whether they are the marionettes, as it were, of proxy nuclear states and as such could therefore be deterred by the possession of a nuclear weapon by the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Russia or China? The noble Baroness has not made clear where these terrorist groups would get their equipment from. It is beholden on her to address whether it is possible to deter the proxy nuclear state in these circumstances.
My Lords, I cannot take too much time out of the limited amount allotted to me, but I shall address that matter right away. The evidence is that it is certainly not impossible to lay one’s hands on nuclear materials. The A Q Khan story shows just how dangerous that is. There have been a number of cautionary examples of terrorist groups attempting to get hold of nuclear materials. My point is very direct: we devote far less time, effort and resources to stopping access to these materials by various utterly irresponsible groups, including rogue states, than we do to addressing what one might describe above all as the traditional issue of assured nuclear deterrence, which I believe is no more relevant to modern warfare than the Maginot line was to the Second World War.
Having talked briefly about the security of existing nuclear materials, one part of which has to be control over the enrichment process, which the IAEA has been so much involved in, I mention the issue of how we can distinguish between civil plutonium—of which there are now large amounts, some not properly secured, in Japan, this country and other countries—and the prospect of making available supplies of lowly enriched uranium, which cannot be turned into weapons-grade uranium by any rapid method that we know.
Even that is not enough. There are the issues of securing nuclear materials and moving away from a hair-trigger warning. I do not accept the assertion by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, that we should not make a major effort to sustain and strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It is the central legal structure on which the limitation of nuclear weapons and the attempt to stop proliferation have been based. To wash our hands of it is to court the planet’s destruction. If we see more and more proliferation, in more and more states, many of them without any obvious moral restraint on how they behave, the chances of our surviving through the next millennium seem extremely small.
There are two crucial elements to how we could strengthen the NPT. First, we should begin to recognise that Article VI of the NPT bites on the nuclear states, not just the non-nuclear states. Many of us are fed up with the unending hypocrisy of lecturing the non-nuclear nations about the need for them not to have nuclear weapons, while happily retaining our own and not even seeking to reduce them. In this context, I must be fair to the Minister. The United Kingdom has made more efforts than most to reduce the scale of its nuclear deterrent, and I welcome that. But generally speaking, the nuclear powers have made very little effort to obey Article VI, and we still see in the United States, Russia and other countries attempts to develop new generations of various kinds of nuclear weapon, such as the bunker buster. Secondly, it is important for the nuclear powers to reduce their vastly unnecessary stocks of nuclear weapons, to give some encouragement to those being asked not to enter the nuclear league.
My final point has already been strongly underlined by my Front Bench; it is the argument that we could extend the life of the existing nuclear fleet. Some of us will know the expert arguments; and the experts are very great indeed. The people who have come from the United States to give testimony here are among the outstanding league of scientists in this field, not just in the nuclear field but in submarine warfare. Yesterday, Dr Richard Garwin, speaking to some of us, said that the life of the US fleet had been extended to 45 years a few years ago, and he saw absolutely no reason why the UK fleet’s life could not be similarly extended. He went so far as to say that, in his view, the fact that the UK nuclear fleet is on station so much less of the time and is used so much less than the US fleet meant that the prospects of extending its life were very much better. When I asked him why he thought the White Paper said what it said, he replied:
“Industry doesn’t want to admit longer life expectancy”.
A very great deal is at stake: finances, resources, including the resources available to other parts of our Armed Forces and, not least, the time available to really move forward on an effort to restrengthen the NPT and to ensure that we take our decisions against a less uncertain situation than at present. I cannot understand why we are pressing for an early decision. If it is part of the Prime Minister’s legacy, one can only say that it is utterly irresponsible not to wait a little longer until we have clearer facts, and above all until we know far more about the consequences for our resources of what we are trying to do. The White Paper does not yet carry consistency or confidence in this House, the other House or among the general population. I hope, therefore, that we will listen very carefully to what is emerging with increasing strength from this debate.
My Lords, the White Paper on continuing the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent virtually presents Parliament with a fait accompli, with only a few details about the number of submarines and whether, how and when we need to refurbish the ongoing D5 missiles to be decided. With the world as dangerous and uncertain as it is, the future so unpredictable, and some volatile regimes apparently intent on doing us or our friends harm, it is so easy to say that we would be mad to forgo our own ultimate weapons system and must not do so—a widely held view, to which Her Majesty’s Opposition have signed up. I feel, however, that my most useful contribution, in the interests of wider analysis and debate—until now conspicuously absent—is to act as devil’s advocate to that view. There are a number of other factors which the Government should consider very seriously before, as the song of The Good Soldier Švejk read, just keeping on keeping on, almost as if the world had not changed at all.
First, it is difficult to see how the United Kingdom can exert any leadership and influence on the implementation of the non-proliferation treaty—if that is what we and the rest of the world want and, essentially, need—if we insist on a successor to Trident that would preserve our own nuclear-power status well into the second half of this century. On the other hand, abandonment, even perhaps before Trident finally wasted out, could be seen as a bold and striking decision intended to show that the country is resolved to return to the position of moral and ethical standards for which it was once widely recognised—and seems largely to have forgotten recently—and to exert some real leadership in the modern world, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned. Some major international player must take a lead in this. While making a further 20 per cent reduction in superfluous warheads may be seen as a gesture in the right direction, it hardly compares with abandoning Trident in favour of properly funding our Armed Forces with what they need to meet the commitments laid upon them, so that they can act, in that much vaunted phrase, as a force for good.
Secondly, even our present nuclear deterrent cannot be seen as being truly independent of the United States in any substantial or useful sense. It continuously relies on the United States for the provision of components for, and regular servicing of, the D5 missiles—although not for the warheads, nor the launching submarines—and for US information on certain aspects of operation. Any successor to Trident would, of necessity, be even more dependent on the United States, with significant and unsatisfactory implications for a proper, two-way US/UK relationship. While this country has, in theory, complete freedom of action over giving the order to fire, it is unthinkable that these terror weapons, which are virtually unusable because of the catastrophic consequences for guilty and innocent alike at a time when most weapons systems are scrupulously becoming more selective, would ever be launched or seriously threatened by this country—itself intensely vulnerable to such weapons—without the backing and underwriting of the United States.
It is difficult to assign high probability to any scenario now discernible under which our own nuclear capability would be necessary because the United States was somehow not involved. NATO speaks for itself. In the Middle East the United States would certainly be the guarantor of Israel if any other Middle East country seriously threatened it. Meanwhile, should our own country become subject to some sort of nuclear blackmail—from a terrorist group, for example—it must be asked in what way, and against whom, our nuclear weapons could be used, or even threatened, to deter or punish. Our present weapons system has shown itself completely ineffective as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently, or are likely to, face—particularly international terrorism. The more you analyse them, the more unusable such weapons systems appear. To use or threaten to use them against those who do not possess them would be to invite the outcry and retribution of the whole world; while for a country of the size and vulnerability of the United Kingdom to do so against a nuclear power would be to indulge in mutual suicide with untold consequences. With potential threats so diffuse and indirect, it would be virtually impossible to think of any obvious target, even if either the political will or any potential advantage existed, both of which are most unlikely.
The philosophy of the Cold War was an entirely different matter. The much cited “seat at the table” may no longer have the resonance it once did. Political clout is likely to come much more from economic strength, as expressed by the G8. Even major-player status in the international military scene is more likely to find expression through effective, strategically mobile conventional forces capable of taking out pinpoint targets than through the possession of unusable weapons. Any military case for continuing our own nuclear capability can be made, as the White Paper admits, only on the absolutely general and long-term basis that, in an uncertain and changing world, it might feel comforting to have such a powerful weapon in the armoury in, say, 25 or 50 years’ time—just like an insurance policy against something which one hopes, and in this case has some reason to believe, will never happen.
The really bald point is whether this country can afford nuclear deterrence considering what we are likely to get out of it. A successor to Trident, tied to the existing submarine-launched missile system, would cost at least £25 billion, judging from some of the estimate over-runs on various projects, and probably even more. That is a vast amount over 30 years, which our defence budget—now under immense pressure, already revealing massive funding gaps, particularly in the crunch period 2011-20—could not possibly cope with, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, with all his experience, has said. It would simultaneously have to provide the many things likely to be required and used in the defence field, as the Prime Minister has said.
After the most careful thought, if the British deterrent comes to be seen more as a status symbol like an American Express gold or platinum card, rather than a serious military weapon of war adding to our Armed Forces’ effectiveness, even for hard battle—the Prime Minister’s phrase, not mine, but one to which I thoroughly subscribe—and enhancing the security of our nation, £25 billion would be a great deal to pay for something so nebulous and doubtful. I can imagine the Treasury’s reaction if the argument “You never know what lies around the corner” was used to justify the proper size and shape for our conventional forces, which history has shown are always on call in the national interest.
Therefore there must be a strong, perhaps over-riding case for the Government to continue to review such an important decision carefully, unemotionally, and taking into account changes in the international scene and in technological developments, even if this means delaying the decision. Before putting firm recommendations to Parliament, they should look first at other non-nuclear and sub-strategic options for our armoury with a far greater utility factor—cruise missiles in some form might be one option—which would still enhance both the deterrent power and the effectiveness of our Armed Forces. The aim at all times would be to achieve a greater flexibility in utility and selectivity of targeting than an exclusively megatonne nuclear solution can possibly provide, and at far less cost.
Before Parliament is asked to endorse any Trident replacement, it should be made aware not only of the realistic costs—I stress realistic—but of how these costs are to be met and, if it is to be out of our defence vote, which is almost certainly going to be the case, of what compensating savings would have to be made to accommodate that replacement. If not, an assessment of the value and impact of such a decision would be incomplete.
My final devil’s advocate question, although one which I hope noble Lords will feel is worthy of serious consideration, is: would this country not be better off morally and militarily without a new nuclear weapons system?
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. I do so with some trepidation. His extensive military service and experience certainly put my few years in the Territorial Army into perspective.
My noble friend Lord O’Neill pointed out that our Labour Government were elected on a manifesto to renew and retain our independent deterrent. We would certainly be criticised extensively if we did not fulfil our manifesto commitments. The Labour Party, of which some Liberal Democrats used to be members, has been committed for almost all its existence to an independent deterrent. I say to my noble friend Lord Judd and to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, for both of whom I have great respect, that we need to bear that point in mind.
Notwithstanding that commitment in the manifesto, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester so generously said, this Government are involved in the widest possible consultation. Indeed, it is unprecedented consultation. First, the Government reviewed all of the options that have been discussed today. Then, having reviewed them, they put forward this White Paper as a basis for consultation, for public debate as well as parliamentary debate. We are having this debate here, there will be one in the Commons, and the Commons will be voting on this issue. I say to those who criticise the Prime Minister—I say this particularly to the Liberal Democrat Front Bench who cannot resist a pop at the Prime Minister; there seems to be some obsession—that he needs to be given some credit for the consultation process. We had a Commons vote on Iraq as well.
I feel very strongly that in this decision, as with global warming, we need to think in the very long term rather than the short term, in decades rather than years. Our generation—and we are mostly of the same generation—has enjoyed the advantages of the protection of the independent deterrent. We have seen peace in Europe in almost all of my lifetime. As for the timescale of the decision, I think everyone has accepted that, with perhaps the question of a year or two here or there, it will take a long time for these decisions to be implemented and most of us agree they have to be taken now. If we do not take the decision on submarines, we are in danger of depriving our children and our grandchildren of the kind of protection that we have enjoyed. They may face circumstances that we cannot foresee in which other powers threaten this country. I ask noble Lords to bear that in mind. We have had the protection and we should not deprive our children and our grandchildren of it.
The Liberal Democrats argue that we should delay the decision. I shall not describe this as the usual fence sitting by the Liberal Democrats. The White Paper makes a powerful case that a clear decision has to be made. In all conscience, it is a difficult decision—my noble friend Lord O'Neill argues that it is a popular one—and it may even be unpopular. Do Governments voluntarily bring forward difficult decisions—decisions that may not be the most popular—and suggest that it is merely part of the Prime Minister's legacy? Again, that is the Liberal Democrats indulging in their obsession.
Some argue, as has been argued today, that nuclear weapons are immoral. No weapon is moral or immoral in itself. It depends on the motivation for possessing such a weapon and the uses to which it is or may be put. That applies to every weapon. If peace can best be maintained by the possession of and the threat to use a weapon, surely that is a positive argument in its favour. The choice in this case, as in many cases, is between the lesser of two evils. Some argue that as the Cold War is over, this deterrent is not needed because the threats now come from rogue states or from terrorists. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, argued that. To deal with that, the Government are improving and extending our counterinsurgency forces and we are strengthening our security and intelligence services. So we are dealing separately with that threat, but the nuclear capability is designed to meet other potential threats, just as tanks, aircraft carriers and our other capabilities have other purposes as well.
We face a threat from nuclear or near-nuclear states at the moment and from others that may acquire nuclear weapons in the next few decades. We need to be prepared for that. Perhaps we need an insurance policy—sometimes insurance policies are wise things to have. Some argue, notably the Scottish National Party, that we should be non-nuclear, like Sweden or Norway. Those illustrations are used again and again. That is a naive comparison because we have a totally different history and background from the Scandinavian countries and from other countries. Whether we like it or not, there is a current enmity towards the United Kingdom from some of the nearby nuclear regimes because Britain has stood side-by-side with the United States on the international stage. We must accept, therefore, that we are more vulnerable to attack.
It is said by some—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said it today—that the plan goes against the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The Minister dealt with that in relation to the reduction in warheads by 20 per cent, having reduced them already by 30 per cent—a total of 50 per cent—and the reduction of the number of submarines. That commitment to nuclear non-proliferation should be acknowledged.
Unilateralists also argue—this point was made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, acting as the devil's advocate although, at times, he almost sounded like the devil himself—that if we make this bold move of nuclear disarmament, others will follow. Where is the evidence to support that? Who will follow? I ask those who argue that to name any country that will follow our bold example. I doubt that any will be forthcoming.
It is also suggested that possession is illegal, but there are no rulings of the International Court of Justice. The South Americans took the question to the ICJ, but there was no ruling about the illegality of possession of these weapons. Strangely enough, the only legal ruling was in the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland where the Faslane protestors took the issue. There was a clear ruling that the possession of such weapons was not illegal.
My Lords, I have read it, and I have also read the submissions to the International Court of Justice. My understanding is that the court accepted arguments for and against. My noble and learned friend will be speaking later and he will, no doubt, quote directly from the ruling if he is able to contradict me. I believe that what I said is correct.
My Lords, I accept the first plea and agree with the noble and gallant Lord on the second point. I was referring only to his comment that people will follow our example, not to the question of illegality. I had moved on from that.
Some people, including a number of noble Lords today—including, astonishingly, the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton—argue that the money is better spent elsewhere; schools and hospitals are always cited. I shall make two points in relation to that suggestion. First, a Government’s first duty is to protect its citizens so children can go to school safely and people can go to hospital safely. Secondly, we are still spending more money on schools, hospitals and international development. Incidentally, international development makes it less likely that we will need to spend so much money on defence in future.
No one who has argued the case on this side has mentioned jobs. The jobs provided in the United Kingdom to support the nuclear deterrent are incidental to the argument, but they are not incidental to the people who work in the industry and support it with great commitment.
Some people argue that we should shelter under the US nuclear umbrella. We have heard that today, astonishingly from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. It is astonishing that the same people who argue that we should hide under the protection of the American umbrella are those who have criticised our relationship with the United States, the special relationship and the way we work so closely with the US.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord misunderstood me. I was merely pointing out that if one does take the position, which I think the noble Lord does, that we should be as close as possible to the United States, that weakens the argument for an independent deterrent.
My Lords, I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, makes that argument. Perhaps I have heard the other argument from some of his colleagues in this and another place. I absolve him of that responsibility, although I thought he was moving in that direction.
I notice that time is moving on. We have a responsibility to future generations. We have been protected throughout our lives by the independent deterrent. All the arguments support renewal, and I hope that the Government will listen to the debate and to the arguments that I and others have put forward today.
My Lords, I draw attention to my declaration of interests in the register. I support the case made in the White Paper for modernising our nuclear deterrent. Indeed, I regard it as self-evident. My reservations, which I shall come on to, relate to the number of warheads and submarines. In essence, I do not believe we can have fewer than four submarines to enable one to be on patrol at all times, and I have some concern that the Government may be preparing an escape route on that.
Before coming to those issues, I shall make a few general observations. First, on the non-proliferation treaty, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, spoke eloquently, it is a major objective to make it more effective. However, as we heard, Britain has set a good example by greatly reducing the size of its nuclear deterrent force. Other countries have greatly reduced their stocks of nuclear warheads, although more could certainly be done. I do not think it would be right to say that modernising an existing nuclear deterrent by one of the countries that was recognised to be in a special position by the NPT sets a bad example, especially not if one effect of that modernisation is to make the nuclear weapons safer and, possibly, less indiscriminate.
I note that there are people—indeed, one is sitting very close to me, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall—who argue that we would never be prepared to use our nuclear deterrent, even in extremis. That fails to understand the resolve of our prime ministers to make choices with huge consequences, and I make that comment based on very close-quarters observation of some of them.
Some noble Lords have argued that we face a new breed of enemy who is impervious to the threat of nuclear retaliation. That ignores the experience of the first Gulf War when the late Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction but did not use them because he was told very explicitly indeed what the consequences of using them would be. In that case, deterrence certainly worked. Even the baddest of enemies—and we are likely to face some very bad and nuclear-armed enemies in future—have a well developed sense of self-preservation. They are much less likely to use nuclear weapons or pass them on as proxies to terrorists if the price of that is retaliation. Only nuclear weapons deter the use of nuclear weapons; nothing else does.
The nuclear threat is not as clear and present a danger just now as it was at the height of the Cold War, but we are not talking about “just now”; we are talking about a deterrent capability stretching into the second half of this century. No one can have a precise idea of the sort of enemy or threat we shall face in that timescale, although it is clear that there will be more nuclear-armed countries, possibly many more, and some of them will be unstable and aggressive. So why allow an insurance policy against nuclear attack that we took out decades ago to lapse now in such troubled and potentially dangerous times? In that dangerous world, it is highly likely that Britain will again have to intervene militarily in regional conflicts, as we have recently, and rightly, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The difference will be that in future some of those conflicts are likely to involve nuclear-armed regional states. Without our own nuclear deterrent as a back-up, we could not take the risk of intervening with conventional forces. In other words, it is essential that we are able to prevent ourselves being deterred, and only possession of an independent deterrent can guarantee that.
I do not entirely shy away from arguing that we should also preserve the deterrent for reasons of status, although, of course, the primary arguments are all military. Our status is earned by our contribution to preserving peace and stability, which gives us the influence to pursue wider British objectives and interests. We are more influential, in particular, on national security issues, than several comparable G8 countries, such as Germany, because we are more willing and able to make an effective military contribution in times of crisis and our nuclear deterrent guarantees that we shall continue to be able to do that whatever threats face us.
Turning to the choice of system, I am sure that the Government have made the right choice in sticking to Trident for the same reasons that guided the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, to choose it in the first place. A submarine-based system provides the most effective form of deterrence with the smallest footprint. I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said about cruise missiles. First, I hope that he is wrong that the Ministry of Defence failed to examine carefully and in detail the case for cruise missiles. Not to have done so would be extremely unprofessional, and I would be most reluctant to believe that of the Ministry of Defence, as I know it.
Secondly, I think that there are genuine question marks over the range and capability of cruise missiles. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I still believe that there is something in the old maxim of preferring to stick with nurse for fear of something worse. Sticking to the Trident system may turn out to be the best course.
It has also been suggested that the lifetime of the existing force could be considerably extended. In recalling past alarms about cracks appearing in our nuclear submarines and the need to withdraw them from service for extended periods, I rather doubt that some of the wilder claims made for extending the life of our submarine force could ever be justified.
I disagree with those who argue that the money spent on our nuclear deterrent could more cost-effectively be invested in conventional forces. We do indeed need more investment in conventional forces, but surely the point is that those forces could prove ineffective in a whole range of future circumstances unless we can prevent their use being deterred by nuclear weapons in the hands of others. That is what our nuclear capability enables us to do.
My final point is to urge the Government to remain firm in their resolve to maintain adequate numbers of warheads and submarines. I find the White Paper less than wholly reassuring on that point. We already maintain only a minimum deterrent, in line with our goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons overall. But you cannot have your disarmament cake and eat it. Given the range of threats, which the White Paper rightly identifies, the head room for further reductions in the number of warheads simply does not exist. I am also deeply sceptical whether it is possible to build the sort of submarines needed to ensure that one is on patrol at all times if we have only three in total. We must be able to meet the operational and targeting requirements of keeping our deterrent credible. It would be a false economy to save millions if that makes the expenditure of billions on a deterrent system ineffective.
I hope very much that the Government will not weaken in their commitment to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence by building the number of boats required to achieve that and that there will not be pressure to abandon that position either by Treasury cheese-paring or by a need to appease those who oppose our nuclear deterrent altogether.
My Lords, last year there was a tremendous consensus among the political parties, the Government and scientists that the greatest threat to the security of our country was climate change. I want to look at some of the arguments about the renewal of an independent nuclear deterrent in the context of climate change.
I am an unashamed unilateralist. I do not want to go into the ethics of the argument this afternoon, as that debate has not changed over the past 30 years, although the context has. Climate change will bring unknown consequences. Scientists are unable to model exactly where we are going with climate change, and social scientists cannot model what the consequences will be. Among the possible effects that they have outlined are mass migration, resource shortages, especially of food and water, and an atmosphere of great instability and vulnerability. In such an atmosphere, it could be argued, it would be important to have an independent nuclear deterrent to deter people from encroaching on our resources. But, can we really envisage a situation where we would launch an attack on people, for example refugees, threatening to overwhelm us?
I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester that there has not been a debate about the morals of when we would use such a weapon in this context. Nor is it likely that a country which wanted to acquire our land and water resources would launch a nuclear attack on us, as by doing so it would pollute the very resources it sought to acquire. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has outlined the various scenarios. He is evidently far more qualified to do so than I am, but very serious questions need to be asked about how relevant nuclear deterrence is in this context.
A number of noble Lords have pointed to the need for resources to go into conventional military weapons and other areas of demand such as schools and hospitals. As long ago as 1995, the opinion of quite a body of leading economists was brought together in a book called Economists and the Environment. Their opinion, even then, was that it made far more sense to spend less on weapons and more on the environment.
There are some striking parallels between the calculations of the overall cost of buying the missiles, replacing the submarines and maintaining the system for 30 years—estimated by some as £76 billion—and the cost of making some real inroads into reducing our carbon emissions by a level approaching the Government’s target. So far as anyone can calculate, that figure is £60 billion to £80 billion. So when discussing where resources should go, it is important that climate change is part of the equation.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made the point about jobs. Jobs can be found equally well in the cutting-edge, scientific developments of carbon-reduction technologies and, not least in this country, in adaptation—as we know, climate change is already under way. We have to adapt much more rapidly and take cognisance of the issue more than we have hereto. The Government are budgeting, I believe, less than £1 billion a year to tackle directly all the climate change issues, but, as the Stern report showed, we need to spend far more than that and far quicker. The speed with which we tackle these effects will be crucial; we cannot afford to spend at the end of the period.
Much has been made of what we will leave to our children as an inheritance if we do not have the security of a nuclear weapons system. However, I believe that world security will be about adequate energy, water and food in the 21st century, and about each country having controlled its needs and consumption so that it feels secure enough. That will take a sea change in the amount of investment in research and development, agriculture, water conservation and so on. We will probably have to redesign the very way we live. We need that sort of investment for a secure future. We should have already decided to make such investment now. Instead, the Government seem to feel that they must make a thoroughly premature decision on a weapons system whose relevance in the 21st century many analysts, including many speakers this afternoon, have questioned.
Last week it was revealed that the Doomsday clock, which was created in 1947 by a group of atomic scientists to calculate the risk of nuclear catastrophe, had moved closer to midnight by several minutes. In my lifetime it has always been about 10 minutes to midnight. Midnight is wipe-out time. This year the scientists moved the time forward because of climate change risks being faced without progress on the non-proliferation treaty. If it has moved in that way, climate change has to be taken into consideration in this debate.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. I am privileged to be the president of the World Disarmament Campaign; and I should tell my noble friends Lord Foulkes and Lord O’Neill that there are an awful lot of very worried people out there, even if they do not always succeed in making their voices heard.
We may begin with a premise on which we can all agree: we want to make this country as secure as possible in a dangerous world. The issue is how that can best be done. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has just reminded us that threats come in a range of forms, so we should not take too narrow a view of what threatens the security of this country. Even if we take the narrow view, the question is bound to arise of what contribution Trident can make in response to threats.
In their response to the report of the House of Commons Defence Committee, the Government said:
“We do not see Trident as a weapon system for fighting wars, but as having a fundamentally political role in deterring aggression”.
A deterrent can deter only if there is a possible situation and manner in which someone might contemplate using it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, quite properly reminded us, we are considering a devastating weapon. My noble friend Lord Drayson told us that it was intended only for strategic purposes; I hope that my noble friend Lord Triesman can elaborate on that when he concludes.
I realise that we want to keep potential enemies guessing, but surely the whole purpose of this debate is to inform us what is proposed, so that we may pass some kind of judgment on it. Would it be used only to counter a nuclear attack, or could it be used against conventional forces? Might it be used against enemy forces, to counter a political invasion of this country? In a contemporary form of warfare, are we likely to see enemy forces conveniently deployed in an open battlefield? Even leaving aside the question of fallout, would we explode our warheads among the tower blocks of Bermondsey or the housing estates of Basildon?
Contemporary wars, as nearly everyone now agrees, are fought among civilian populations in narrow streets or public squares. If the proposed use is for retaliatory purposes, are we proposing to use them against other people’s crowded cities? Do we envisage another, bigger Hiroshima? I hope that no other country would believe us capable of that, but if they do not, how and where is the possible deterrent effect? A credible deterrent would, surely, need to be more proportionate and user-friendly.
That brings us to the next question. It is difficult to consider what our response to an anticipated threat should be without having some idea of its nature and whence it may come. The White Paper considers that there is, at present, no identifiable threat. It says, in paragraph 3.8:
“Currently no state has both the intent to threaten our vital interests and the capability to do so with nuclear weapons”.
The Government’s case, as I understand it, can be encapsulated in the slogan “You never know”, which has been given as a reason for everything from galoshes to elephant guns.
The Defence Committee considered that the most pressing threat faced by the UK is international terrorism, to which a number of noble Lords referred. To my knowledge, no one has sought to argue that nuclear weapons could be used against terrorists, or in any event that they would be deterred by the possibility of such use. If it is suggested that they might be used against rogue states, should a rogue state that encourages terrorists be visited with nuclear warheads? If that is so, perhaps my noble friend Lord Triesman could make it clear.
The problem with preparing to meet a threat that cannot be assessed is that what the Government propose may create the very situation that they fear. It would not be the first time that a country created defences against a real or imagined threat and other countries, with absolutely no previous aggressive intention, perceived the defences as a threat to themselves and responded by creating their own defences. We then have a vicious cycle: of defence perceived as a threat, leading to defence perceived as a threat, leading to defence—the classic paradigm of an arms race.
I return to the initial premise. The Government are concerned to safeguard the security of this country; so are we all. The question then arises of how that can best be done. An answer that many people give is that Britain would be most secure in a world where nuclear weapons do not proliferate, a world where the objectives of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty are realised, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has pointed out. They would say that anything undermining the treaty is counterproductive and leaves us not safer but in greater danger. That raises the question: if the Government believe that nuclear weapons are essential to our security, how can we convince the non-nuclear states that they are not essential to theirs? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who is not in his place, raised that question.
The White Paper addresses that question in box 3.1:
“The NPT recognised the UK”,
and certain other states,
“as nuclear weapon States, and established other signatories as non-nuclear weapon States”.
There are two criticisms of that. First, it does not answer the question. If nuclear weapons are essential to the security of the United Kingdom, are the non-nuclear states to be left devoid of security? To point out that they have no right to be secure will hardly persuade them.
Secondly, that answer rests on a false premise. The White Paper points out, quite correctly, that Article VI of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty does not establish a timetable for nuclear or general disarmament. It does not, but it froze the situation as it was in 1968, creating two classes of state: those that had manufactured or exploded a nuclear weapon or device prior to 1 January 1967—the nuclear weapons states—and those that had not. That was the best that could be managed then, because those that had weapons could not be persuaded to discard them. No one believed that all the other states would accept second-class status until the end of time. They agreed to those terms because, under Article VI, the nuclear weapons states agreed to negotiate in good faith for two things: first, nuclear disarmament, and, secondly, “general and complete disarmament”.
The treaty was envisaged as an interim measure until nuclear and general disarmament could be achieved. The suggestion that the non-nuclear states were prepared to accept second-class status for eternity would have been an idea from cloud-cuckoo-land.
My Lords, as I understand it, that question arose then because it appeared that compliance with Article VI was in some doubt in a number of places. The greatest danger would have been if the treaty had disappeared altogether, before Article VI had been complied with. It was still, as I understand it, intended to fill a gap, however long that continued. I cannot believe that the non-nuclear states believed that they would have had second-class status “forever and a day”, as the hymn puts it.
It is as though Parliament, when creating the offence of carrying an offensive weapon, had exempted those who were already carrying one. The preamble to the treaty exhibits a clear sense of urgency, with the words:
“Declaring their intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race”.
The non-nuclear states have for some years shown signs of impatience that the nuclear weapons states have exhibited no great anxiety to deliver on that part of the deal. Until now, as my noble friend Lord Drayson said, the United Kingdom could at least claim that it had substantially reduced its nuclear weaponry and was therefore moving towards disarmament, but to make a major investment in replacing Trident would send a clear signal that we see the treaty, with its class distinction, not as an interim arrangement but as, at best, indefinite and, at worst, permanent.
I had hoped to respond to my noble friend Lord Foulkes’s mistaken view, as I believe it to be, that there has been no ruling on the legitimacy of nuclear weapons. I fear that he and I will have to decide that over a drink later, because time is against me.
I do not believe that anyone is going to emulate this country, whatever it does, purely because we have taken a particular view. I do believe that many people and many states have looked to this country because of its leadership again and again in these matters and have regarded it as one of the great hopes for one day achieving total nuclear disarmament. That is the laurel that they bestow on the teams from this country. I believe that if the decision is taken in the way that the Government propose, there will be many very disappointed people out there.
My Lords, my contribution will cover the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from the angle of considering the implications of the Government’s proposals, their preferred course of action, as set out in the White Paper, for the nuclear non-proliferation regime as a whole, and their compatibility with our commitments as a signatory and depository of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
My first point is that the non-proliferation treaty has turned out to be a far more durable and effective instrument of international law than was originally expected when it first entered into force some 40 years ago; it has worked very much in the national interest of this country. In place of the 20 to 30 nuclear weapons states predicted at that time, there are only eight or nine, depending on how you choose to score North Korea. They are the five countries which were nuclear weapons states and recognised as such when the treaty was signed, which are the five permanent members of the Security Council, and the three countries that never signed the non-proliferation treaty and are generally assumed to have nuclear weapons—India, Israel and Pakistan.
During those 40 years, it has proved possible to roll back nuclear weapons programmes in South Africa, Libya and Iraq, to persuade several countries formerly part of the Soviet Union to pass up the opportunity to retain nuclear weapons—Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine—and to persuade other countries, such as Argentina and Brazil, to forgo nuclear research programmes which could have had weapons implications.
My second point cuts right across the first: the non-proliferation treaty regime is now under greater threat than it has ever been before from a number of different angles, most obviously from North Korea’s defiance of its treaty obligations and from Iran’s refusal, so far, to take the necessary steps to convince the international community that its clandestine uranium enrichment and other activities are not designed to provide a short cut to a weapons programme.
It is also under threat from tensions arising out of the existence of the three non-signatory de facto possessors of nuclear weapons: India, because of the not very satisfactory bilateral agreement entered into by the US last year; Pakistan, because of the supposedly freelance activities of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan; and Israel, because of the ever worsening situation in the Middle East. Then there is the failure of the five nuclear-weapons states to make much or, in some cases, any progress towards nuclear disarmament and to fulfil the 13-step programme to which they committed themselves at the NPT Review Conference in 2000.
It is the last of those three shortcomings which is most germane to our debate today. To what extent can the Government's proposals be considered as conforming to the commitments that we gave? Clearly, the reduction in the ceiling on the number of warheads, from 200 to 160, can be presented as progress towards nuclear disarmament, but could we not manage to maintain deterrence at a lower level of warheads than that? The same point could be made if there were to be a reduction in the submarine fleet from four to three, but that is not certain. It should surely become so, especially since the hair-trigger standby arrangements needed during the Cold War are no longer justifiable. What is less easy to defend is deciding on Trident replacement earlier than is strictly speaking necessary, at a time of great fragility for the NPT regime as a whole.
Britain's interest in and obligations towards the non-proliferation treaty do not stop with the future of its own nuclear deterrent; they extend to reversing recent trends towards a weakening and perhaps even a collapse of that regime. That trend was most evident in 2005, when two attempts to strengthen the regime led to deadlock both at the NPT Review Conference in May and at the UN summit in September.
For that trend to be reversed, the following six steps need to be taken as a matter of urgency. First, there needs to be strong renewed pressure to bring into effect the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. That will mean persuading the United States to look again at its refusal to ratify the treaty. Secondly, all the recognised nuclear-weapons states should resume implementation of the 13 steps to which they committed themselves in 2000. Thirdly, negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty should be engaged in and brought to an early successful conclusion.
Fourthly, all countries with safeguard agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency should accept and ratify the agency’s additional protocol. If, within a certain period, that is not done, the Security Council should adopt a Chapter VII resolution making that a mandatory requirement. Fifthly, negotiations at the IAEA to establish an internationally guaranteed system for the supply of enriched uranium and spent fuel reprocessing available to all civil nuclear users whose safeguards are in good standing should be completed in 2007. That should be matched by a voluntary and possibly time-limited moratorium on the construction of further enrichment and reprocessing facilities. Sixthly, it should be made clear that the establishment of nuclear weapons-free zones—in the Middle East, in particular—remains an integral part of any peace process.
It is evident that those six steps would not of themselves present solutions to the hard cases of North Korea and Iran but they would greatly increase the pressure all round on those two countries to come into line with the requests made of them by the Security Council. In any event, the fragility of the non-proliferation treaty will not be remedied simply by finding bilateral fixes to those two hard cases; that also requires the strengthening of the multilateral disciplines that underpin the regime. Strengthening those disciplines would also reassure North Korea and Iran that they were not being picked on as isolated cases but were merely being asked to accept the same disciplines as other non-nuclear weapons states.
As for the two hard cases of North Korea and Iran, we must recognise that Britain and its European partners have a less prominent role to play in the former than the latter. The six-nation group dealing with the North Korean issue clearly needs to remain the main focus of international diplomacy and those outside that group need to give the process strong support. On Iran, we are, with our EU partners, a member of the core group handling the matter. Currently there is a stand-off, with no talks let alone negotiations taking place.
The sanctions decided by the Security Council are likely soon to come into effect, justifiably so if Iran makes no move to comply with the requests put to it unanimously by the Security Council. But should we not then seek to resume dialogue with Iran without making any preconditions? Should we not also be telling our US partners that the discrepancy between their willingness to talk bilaterally and without preconditions to North Korea and their refusal to do so with Iran is increasingly difficult to justify and defend, whatever one may think of the policies of the Iranian Government?
We must ask ourselves one question that relates directly to today’s debate: does Britain's decision on Trident make it more difficult to handle the cases of North Korea and Iran? Or, to put it another way, would our abandoning Trident be likely to provide effective leverage on those two countries? I think that the answer is no to both questions. Neither country is motivated to any significant extent by Britain's nuclear status, which both accepted when they signed the non-proliferation treaty. Neither, unfortunately, would be likely to be swayed by a unilateral decision on our part to abandon that status.
I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate in his winding-up speech whether the Government support the broad ideas and the six steps that I have proposed, or some variant of them. If they support such an approach, would it not be timely for either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary at an early date to set out in a public speech the British Government’s overall position on nuclear non-proliferation and thus to make clear that, in taking this decision on Trident, they intend not only to continue to fulfil the commitment to move towards nuclear disarmament but to step up their effective support for strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation treaty regime? Would it not also be timely for similar support to be forthcoming from this year’s G8 summit in Germany, and for the British Government to take an early initiative to bring that about?
The problem with the nuclear non-proliferation issue is that it is complex, technical and poorly understood. Yet few areas of policy are more vital to peace and security in the 21st century. Surely it is high time that political leaders moved it higher up their common agenda and explained it to their electorates in terms more easily understood than those hitherto employed. The two-minutes-forward tick of the Doomsday clock may be a crude way of doing that, but it points the way towards greater urgency and a clearer understanding of what is at stake.
My Lords, I start by taking this opportunity to remind the House of an incident in 1954, when the effects of Hiroshima still reverberated around the world, the memory of it still close, and the Cold War was becoming more fraught. Bertrand Russell contacted Albert Einstein, and through that contact initiated what became known as the Russell-Einstein manifesto. It was a call to scientists, whose discipline had created the nuclear bomb, to lead the way in preventing nuclear war.
However, that call reached far beyond the scientific community. It was more than a commitment to abolish nuclear weapons. The manifesto recognised that the world was a dangerous place, with real potential for conflict around every corner. It recognised the tremendous destructive powers of these new weapons of mass destruction and the appalling and lasting effects of large amounts of radiation. It put the question, “Shall we put an end to the human race or shall mankind renounce war?”. It was really an urgent call to the inhabitants of this globe of ours to recognise that this new capacity for destruction meant that war should become unthinkable. It was a call for a world based on law, consent and new multinational methods of conflict resolution. It was a call for the reinforcement of the new United Nations Security Council and for international treaties, and it is as relevant today as it was then.
Recent events have shown that we are far from renouncing war. It still deeply shocks me, as we pore over the events that led up to the Iraq invasion, that even as we sought a second UN resolution, the Prime Minister’s aim was not to prevent war but to justify it. At the core of their manifesto, Russell and Einstein make the clear statement that,
“there can be no winners in a nuclear war”.
I think that the world, in between times, has recognised that. Many distinguished international lawyers today take the view that the use of the Trident system—not the having of it—would breach customary international law, because it would infringe the intransgressable requirement that a distinction be drawn between combatants and non-combatants.
What does that difficult word “intransgressable” mean in familiar language? The principle of distinction between combatants and civilians is central to certain international crimes. Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that, because of the very nature of the missiles involved, the effects will be visited disproportionately on innocent civilians and will mean the devastation of the natural environment as well as of whole cities, and that there could even be an impact on the well-being of neutral neighbouring nations, would be a serious violation of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict. It is also impossible to imagine that the use of nuclear weapons would meet the requirement of proportionality in accordance with the just war principles. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, mentioned the International Court of Justice. He was wrong, I am afraid, because in 1996 that court stated very clearly:
“In view of the unique characteristics of nuclear weapons … the use of such weapons in fact seems scarcely reconcilable with respect for”,
just war principles.
Trident nuclear warheads are 100 to 120 kilotonnes each. A low-yield Trident would reduce a whole town to rubble. Each warhead has at least eight times the explosive power of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, and each submarine carries four to eight warheads. Let us think about that for a moment. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said, conventional weapons are increasingly smart. They are certainly capable of greater discrimination than nuclear weapons. A nuclear warhead, by its very nature, creates devastation that cannot be contained. The long-term effects of radiation—cancers, birth defects and burns—have perhaps been forgotten in this debate.
Recently obtained legal opinions by Peacerights and Greenpeace also take the view that the replacement of Trident would be a material breach of our obligations under Article VI of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Why does international law matter? It matters because we know that it is the best attempt to preserve the human race and to show our allegiance to humanity. Joseph Rotblat, the great British scientist who won the Nobel peace prize and who sadly died last year, reminded us that throughout the centuries we prepared for war, so what we got was war, not peace. What we now have to do is to prepare for peace, and we can do that only if we extend our present loyalties to our families, to our friends, to our cities, to our nation and to the whole of mankind.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked how we can forbid countries such as Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear capacity as we enhance our own arsenal. How can we talk to any other nation about reducing its nuclear capacity if we speak with forked tongues about our own defence needs? The only way to make multilateral disarmament real is by someone taking a lead, and I, like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, would like to see Britain do just that.
Military experts have been arguing convincingly that we do not need to rush to renew Trident now, and that there should be a more measured and deliberative process of public debate. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, maintained that there had been wide consultation on the White Paper, but I am afraid that does not accord with what most people would understand by consultation. The public are very critical of processes that are described as consultation but which are merely a cosmetic veneer to dress up decisions that have already been taken. I am afraid that, for many people, that is how this feels. It already feels as though this is done and dusted. The public were taken by surprise by the announcement by the Prime Minister and again by Gordon Brown that Trident would be renewed, and many thought that the reference to the Government’s commitment in the Labour Party manifesto to retain a nuclear deterrent meant precisely that; a commitment to retain what we had, not the introduction of a new generation of warheads.
Twenty-five billion pounds is a huge amount of public money, which many feel would be better spent on better operational capacity for the Army in the field and better accommodation for Army personnel at home. There have been repeated accounts about the underequipment of our Army as it is stretched to the limits on two war fronts. The Government argue that new threats may come from rogue states using terrorists as proxy operatives, perhaps even supplying terrorists with fissile material. I want to ask what we intend to do: are we going to nuke the rogue states that behave in that way rather than use traditional military and diplomatic methods? Are we going to kill and radiate the people who have the misfortune to live under oppressive regimes?
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and others are right to remind us about the moral and ethical issues that are being skated over in the debate. I personally hope that Britain will show leadership in the world and redeem the moral authority we have lost over the Iraq war. The White Paper is supposed to launch a public debate and I hope that the public will be encouraged to take part in such a debate. I would like to hear from the Minister how that will be encouraged and what steps will be taken to bring in the public and allow them to be heard. As Rotblat said when he received his peace prize,
“The quest for a war-free world has a basic purpose: survival”.
That is what we should remember in having this public discussion.
My Lords, with one or two exceptions—the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and my noble friends Lady Williams and Lady Miller being those exceptions for me—I have been appalled at the tone of this debate. A stranger suddenly coming in here might have wondered what we were talking about. At the best of times it sounded like a serious debate on updating a transport system. We are discussing the most terrible weapons of mass destruction ever devised. They are there now. They could destroy the world many times over and they could be used. Whoever starts it, no one can win a nuclear war, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has reminded us from the Russell-Einstein manifesto.
We are discussing Armageddon. I remind us all of what that means by referring to a report made in the 1980s by the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. I hesitated on that name because I was a member of that campaign and we used to call ourselves “Docs against the bomb”. As we have been reminded, the bomb at Hiroshima was a terrible event in human history and I make no apology now for a passionate doctor to follow a passionate lawyer on the subject, because we need to remind ourselves what happened at Hiroshima, committed by a very small bomb by today’s standards. It killed 68,000 people immediately and badly injured 76,000. Countless thousands of people went missing and were never accounted for.
I quote from an eyewitness cited in the report to which I referred:
“No one knew what had happened. Skin was hanging from faces and hands of the survivors. People lay on pavements vomiting and waiting for death. They were too weak to move and no one was there to help. A priest came in from the outskirts and found a group of soldiers with wholly burned faces and eye sockets hollow with the fluid from melting eyes running down cheeks”.
They had been unfortunate enough to see the blast. The eyewitness continued:
“Three out of 45 hospitals remained in Hiroshima, most of the doctors dead or too badly wounded to help others. In the Red Cross hospital 1.6 km from the explosion, ceilings had fallen, plaster, dust, vomit were everywhere, thousands of dead and dying patients lying inside and on the driveway”.
In many ways those people about whom I have been talking were the lucky ones. They died in a few days, but in the weeks, months and years that followed thousands more died from the effects of bone marrow suppression, cancer, bowel erosions and diarrhoea, and later generations suffered and still suffer from genetic disorders. That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about toy weapons. All that was from a 13 kilotonne bomb, a small bomb by today’s standards. We now use megatonne bombs, 760 times more damaging than that dropped on Hiroshima if we do the sums. A bomb dropped on Westminster would mean no London as far out as Croydon, Enfield and Kingston: no people, no emergency workers, no hospitals, even no Government. We must not forget the scale of those weapons.
Many noble Lords have questioned whether the possession of nuclear weapons acts as a deterrent. I will be brief about that, but if we say that our possession of a nuclear bomb is a deterrent to nuclear war we cannot then say that other countries should not have that deterrent. It is totally illogical. Iran has been mentioned: how can we tell Iran that it must not have a nuclear weapon when its neighbouring country Israel has one, on the admission of its Prime Minister a few weeks ago? I sometimes think rather flippantly that if it was truly a deterrent the international community should make sure that everyone has one little bomb and then we could all deter one another. What a nonsense concept it is; and what of this non-proliferation treaty mentioned by many noble Lords? We agreed then that every signatory should have nuclear energy if they wished. We are complaining about Iran at the moment. We agreed that those without the bomb should not try to obtain one, and that those five countries with the bomb would negotiate the elimination of all nuclear weapons in time.
In keeping and updating Trident, surely we are acting illegally against the non-proliferation treaty. I would like the Minister in his summing up to clarify that point for me. It is a sincere request for clarification and information. As other noble Lords have said, if terrorists strike with nuclear weapons, where do we strike back? Do we drop nuclear bombs on the civilian populations of north Pakistan, where it is alleged that there are terrorists hiding, or Manchester, where we know that there were terrorists hiding after 7 July? Where do we drop those bombs? They are not relevant to a terrorist attack.
I have no idea what the cost is going to be. I am told that it is £25 billion to update the weapons rising to £76 billion if we take the maintenance into account—enormous costs. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is not in his place, asked in his fascinating and brilliant speech, what about our ordinary defence forces? Is it obscene that we possess nuclear weapons but there are soldiers in Iraq who did not have sufficient body armour for the job they were supposed to do? Is it obscene that we have nuclear weapons in this country and our Armed Forces, wives, children and families are accommodated in the most appalling homes and flats? Is it not appalling that we have nuclear weapons in this country yet, when there is a natural disaster, a cry goes out for helicopters and not only do we not have enough helicopters, which are the only seriously useful thing that the Armed Forces possess—that is a flippant remark, but they are seriously useful—but we do not have any heavy lift equipment to get them out to where they are needed, whether it is Mozambique, Kashmir or wherever is the disaster? It is verging on the obscene that we have nuclear weapons, yet we cannot do the things that we want to do. Money spent on the developing world, and on our own education and health services, would be a far better investment.
In his opening remarks, the Minister said, as does the White Paper, that the number of warheads in the Trident system will be reduced. It will be fully independent, not dependent on the United States, which is good news, and it will form only 1 per cent of world nuclear capability. Nevertheless, let us not doubt that by updating this system, we are pushing the world into a new arms race. Worse than that, my country will lose any moral authority it may have left since the Government’s disastrous foreign policy adventures in the Middle East.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Drayson for the comprehensive way in which he introduced the debate. I am pleased that the Government have committed themselves to this full public debate on updating our nuclear deterrent, which will be followed of course by the vote in another place. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said and my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock emphasised, it is the first time that a Government have initiated such a comprehensive debate.
For many of us, the terms of this debate and the context in which it is taking place have changed enormously over the past 30 years. The whole question of whether this country should have a nuclear deterrent was one of the overarching points of political controversy in my youth. It was a topic that was never very far from the top of the Labour Party’s agenda and that—as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, described—divided the Labour Party from top to bottom as a huge question of public morality, with no little party infighting. As we heard again today, not least from the right reverend Prelate and from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell and the noble Baroness who just spoke, these issues remain huge questions of public morality, and so they should. It is right that they do. A battery of other issues has also been raised today: timing, costs, the impact of the expenditure on other forms of military expenditure, and the leverage that we have by maintaining—or, indeed, by abandoning—our nuclear capability. All of those are very important issues.
The Government’s position cannot be a great surprise to anyone, not even, if I may say so, to the Liberal Democrats. Our 2005 election manifesto said unequivocally that the Government were committed to retaining an independent nuclear deterrent. My noble friend Lady Kennedy said that she did not think that that meant it would be renewed. I remind her that our own national policy forum in 2004 specifically rejected a proposal not to replace Trident. I think that that put a very particular context around it.
The Government’s commitment, however, goes a great deal further than that. Like any Government, ours have a first duty to maintain the security of our own country. But unlike many other Governments, we are also committed to contributing to and working for global disarmament. Since 1997, the Government’s approach has been consistent in reducing our own nuclear arsenal, in working towards a minimum deterrent, in maintaining that deterrent, and, moreover, in maintaining our position as a nuclear power actively working for more comprehensive international approaches on the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear arsenals both here and abroad.
I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, that the Government have an excellent record on this issue: on the withdrawal of the free-fall bomb, on the reduction of our operationally available warheads by almost half, by all the work that we have undertaken on transparency with regard to fissile holdings, and on our work on verification. I know that my noble and learned friend is well aware of that because he often raises questions on it in this House.
My Lords, I do not believe that we will throw that away—a point that I shall come on to—but I thank the noble and learned Lord for re-emphasising those points, because they all testify to the Government’s commitment to reduce and control our nuclear capability and to press for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced, verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. All those points are important in the stance that the Government take. I am bound to say that ours is a record of which I am very proud.
As we have also heard today, many of the old certainties have gone, and they have been replaced by new threats: international terrorism, suicide bombing and rogue states that support terrorism openly or covertly. It is, of course, a terrorism that boasts a total disregard for the value of human life. I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, acknowledge the links, actual or potential, between rogue states which are on the way to acquiring nuclear capability and terrorist groups which are committed to using any weapons to kill as many innocent people as possible.
Many questions have been raised today on the timing of this decision. I thought that my noble friend Lord Drayson dealt with the point in his opening speech, but I should like to press my noble friend Lord Triesman on it. When I was Minister for Defence Procurement I was appalled at how long the procurement process takes and how enormously difficult it is to reduce the huge delays which are built into the processes. Our predecessors in government experienced very similar difficulties. In defence procurement we have managed to get some control over costs, but our control over delays is still very much wanting. It seems at least arguable that the Ministry of Defence and the defence industries have to do more to reduce the time that the procurement process takes. We have been told that the Vanguard submarines will start to reach the end of their lives in 2017 and that they can be extended by five years, to 2022. The Government’s argument is that it took 14 years to procure Trident, so it will take at least as long to update it, particularly given the more vigorous safety and regulatory standards and the more complex and sophisticated technologies which pertain today.
Given my own experience, I readily accept the validity of the argument as it stands, but I question the underlying assumption that procurement has to take so long and that nothing can be done to speed up our processes. There are underlying questions about our reliance on particular sectors or companies in our defence industrial base. In recent years, the tendency towards mergers of those companies has meant that a great deal of the competitive edge has been taken out of the procurement process.
I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister: what will that procurement process be? We all know that it will be built in the United Kingdom, but how will the contractor be selected, and how will any contractors be bound to timetabling and cost undertakings? As we all know, companies are very good at making all sorts of promises when they are undergoing the tendering process, but sometimes they are not quite so enthusiastic once the contract is signed. The fact is that Ministers and Governments change and the collective political memory—if I can put it that way—becomes a little dimmed, but company personnel go on working on the same projects, possibly over a whole working lifetime, and they do maintain their collective corporate memory.
This is bound to be a project that will be highly sensitive in terms of security and secrecy. I therefore ask what real political and administrative oversight Ministers will be able to exercise now and in the future. How can we be sure that the decisions on specifications taken now or in the next few years will not be hopelessly out of date by 2022? Of course, this will also be very costly. To take the Minister’s figure of £15 billion to £20 billion, it is an enormous government procurement project, and the MoD procurement processes have a tendency sometimes to underestimate costs rather than the reverse. How will the costs be monitored and controlled? What oversight will Parliament have?
We have all read the assurances that the costs will not be at the expense of conventional capabilities of our Armed Forces. For my part, knowing how defence expenditure has to be managed in different capital projects, I have the depressing feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, may be right. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, took up very much the same themes. The fact is that while complaints continue on Forces pay, Forces accommodation and some of the most basic equipment—let alone really big procurement projects—assurances on this point are vital. I would not only like to hear these assurances from my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor but I would like them to be specific about expenditure on this project being quite clearly an addition to defence expenditure elsewhere.
We all know that the fundamental issue for many people is not the cost, not the impact of expenditure on other defence projects, not the timing, or even, sometimes, not the jobs that may come from such a renewal—it is the morality of updating a weapon of mass destruction, a weapon which some people would never use no matter in what circumstances. I expect that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and my noble friend Lady Kennedy are just such individuals. I respect that argument. I even admire those who hold that view in the principled way that they do. I am glad that they make the arguments they do to remind us about the horror of nuclear war. However, I take a different view. I believe that the nuclear deterrent keeps us safer with it than we would be without it. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said, it is the certain knowledge of any potential aggressor that a nuclear attack upon us would be suicidal to the attacker. To me, that is the most persuasive deterrent of all.
It seems to me fanciful to suggest, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, did, that if we divested ourselves of our nuclear weapons, we would have greater authority to persuade others to do the same; or, indeed, that it is hypocritical not to divest ourselves of such weapons when we seek to discourage others. It may sound comforting, but it is miles away from the reality of international relationships. Does anybody seriously believe that if we got rid of our nuclear capability, the North Koreans would say, “That’s splendid—what a fine example! We’ll do the same.”? Or that the Iranians would say, “That’s a very, very persuasive gesture. We’ll follow suit.”? Such ideas really are verging on the risible.
What would happen is that Britain’s voice would be weaker, our point of view would not be taken into account in the councils of international opinion when discussing this subject, and our influence,—which is currently very telling,—would evaporate overnight. We would become more dependent on others. Do your Lordships really want us to be more dependent on the United States, good friend as it is? Ours is not always a comfortable relationship. Or would your Lordships want us to be more dependent, perhaps, on France? Frankly, that is a thought that strikes me as bizarre at every level upon which I consider it. Perhaps I may say very gently to the right reverend Prelate, I do not think that President Chirac has the slightest intention of giving up his nuclear capability. Ultimately our foreign policy—our independent foreign policy—would become ever harder to sustain. I therefore applaud Ministers for making their case openly and transparently and for the commitment to a parliamentary vote in due course. I look forward to the rest of this debate.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s decision to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future. Many good points have been made this afternoon in support of that decision. I will endeavour not to tread too much on already well trodden ground, but I would particularly like to endorse the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, about how the attitudes of Iran and North Korea would change were we unilaterally to give up our own nuclear capability.
It is a nuclear capability that has served us well, especially the submarine-borne strategic asset that has provided continuous, ultimate assurance of our national security since it was first deployed in 1968. Let me also take the opportunity—as did the Minister—to pay tribute to the submariners and their support staff who have maintained the Polaris and the Trident deterrent, submerged for every second of every minute of every hour of every day, without break, and undetected for nigh on 40 years. It is a remarkable human and technological achievement that, by and large, receives little or no acknowledgment.
As I say, the deterrent has served us well and, given our frequently proven inability to predict events which have strategic impact, such as the Falklands, the invasion of Kuwait, or 9/11, it would certainly be unwise to abandon the security it provides at a time of huge global uncertainty and nuclear proliferation—especially by some states whose long-term stability and sense of responsibility are at best questionable. I do not need to elaborate on that given the perceptive comments of a number of noble Lords who have spoken on this before me.
I also welcome the decision to stay with the submarine platform for our nuclear delivery. Apart from its cost-effectiveness, no other system can get close to its covertness and thus relative invulnerability to pre-emptive strike. Under the opaque high seas, the submarine on quick-reaction alert faces none of the threats of disruption—such as terrorism or public disorder—that can assail any system operating from the land.
It is also sensible to continue with the ballistic missile which, apart from the huge range difference that allows the SSBN to lose itself in the middle of the world’s oceans, does not suffer the same vulnerability to survivability of the cruise missile. These are significant capability gaps that will not close over the timescale of the deployment of a replacement deterrent.
Much talk is bandied about as to why this decision cannot be deferred, especially by extending the lives of the Trident submarines beyond the five-year extension being mooted for the class—in other words, to allow them to run on after 2024. I am afraid that those who suggest such a course of action, including the transatlantic commentators mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, expose their understandable but dangerous ignorance of operating at first hand British nuclear submarines nearing the end of their design lives, at which time they have shown themselves to be increasingly hard, and hugely expensive, to maintain, and the hurdles imposed by nuclear safety authorities become more and more costly to surmount. All our experience of dealing with ageing nuclear submarines that has been garnered over the past couple of decades can lead only to the conclusion that it would be absolutely irresponsible to push the current Trident class beyond the five-year extension to its designed lifespan. I share the fears of my noble friend Lord Powell on that point. I think that they are quite justified. Given that this means that the force will deplete to a level in 2024 when continuous at-sea deterrence cannot be guaranteed and given the 17 years it will take to design, build and make ready a new class of submarine, it is quite clear why a decision must be made now if there is to be no break in our capability.
It should be self-evident that any such planned break to one of the fundamental keystones of our deterrence posture that is represented by continuous at-sea deterrence would completely undermine the credibility of the deterrent—not to mention what it would do to the effectiveness and motivation of the submarine crews.
While on the subject of continuous at-sea deterrence, I agree that it would be sensible to explore what our latest technologies can offer in increased reliability, sustainability and availability, and what they might allow us to do to reduce the size of the strategic submarine force to three boats without undue risk to the maintenance of unbroken continuity of a submarine on patrol.
Finally, I also welcome the Prime Minister’s comment that the investment required to maintain the deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities of our Armed Forces and what they need. None the less, it is with some trepidation that I allow in this case for hope to triumph over experience. The scepticism expressed by my noble friend Lord Owen on this is, I fear, well placed. However much the Minister may protest otherwise, the fact is that our Armed Forces are totally inadequately and irresponsibly under-funded for their current level of commitments and the defence planning assumptions they are supposed to meet. Now is not the time to roll out a litany of examples to bear this out—I have mentioned many of them on the Floor of the House before, particularly the deprivations of the Royal Navy—but the point I wish to register is that I fear we will see the Treasury conducting some underhand activity in the current spending round to shave the defence budget in order to allow headroom for the new strategic force. This will have a disastrous effect on our conventional military capability where already we are seeing running rife rumours that to meet savings targets, dramatic cuts are to be made. If only half of what is being leaked comes to pass, our forces will be emasculated—a very poor reward for what they have done for this Government during their time in office.
We will have to examine the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review with great care to see whether the Prime Minister has kept his word.
My Lords, given that the noble and gallant Lord speaks as a former submarine commander and someone who has had responsibility for the Navy as well as for the whole of our defence, his words have great authority. His final remarks on the impact of the immediate reduction of expenditure really will need to be taken into consideration when we have before us the Comprehensive Spending Review. However, the fact that the major expenditure, as is made clear in the White Paper, will not occur until the period 2012 to 2027, means that it will be on subsequent rather than the present Comprehensive Spending Review that the major impact will be felt.
Today’s debate on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent falls on the 50th anniversary of the 1957 defence White Paper produced by Duncan Sandys which stimulated in some ways the first significant public debate on British nuclear weapons. I mention this partly because as an undergraduate then I played some part in that debate, and I seem to have been involved in debating both with myself and others on the subject ever since. Unlike some of my noble friends, I have never been a unilateralist but have always held that my unenthusiastic support for British nuclear weapons was acceptable only if the strongest pressure was put on successive British Governments to take their commitments to multilateral disarmament seriously. I commend what has been done and has already been referred to this afternoon, but I shall come back to that at the end in order to support the proposals put forward so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, earlier in the debate.
I begin by considering the question of timing, which was referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. As the Defence Select Committee in the House of Commons argued in its report last year, it can be suggested that in some respects this is a premature decision. The noble and gallant Lord has just made the point that in paragraph 1.5 the White Paper argues that it would be “highly imprudent” to consider extension beyond five years. In any case, even if some conceptual work is now to be undertaken, as suggested in the White Paper, it appears from paragraph 5.11—I would be grateful if the Minister could help us on this—that the main gate decision and the beginning of significant expenditure will not occur until 2012. I believe that that is the critical decision rather than the decision now to carry out certain conceptual studies. It has been argued from these Benches that if we were prepared to operate on the basis of three rather than four submarines from 2022, the decision could even be put back by another two years. While I would certainly argue that the current prospect does not create a situation in which one should decide not to replace the Vanguard submarines, the possibilities of global developments are such that it would be prudent not to make the critical decisions before one has to. That point has been made clear by other noble Lords in the debate.
The underlying decision on whether Britain should or should not have nuclear weapons has always been a difficult one for me. I have ethical, economic and political questions, and I should like to look at all three. Since their first use in 1945, nuclear weapons have always raised very difficult ethical questions. I was glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester raised that so clearly in his remarks. The scale of the destruction they can produce is considered so horrific that the normal jus ad bellum, the concept of proportionality, is extremely difficult to apply.
During the Cold War the existential threat to our society of a military attack by the Soviet Union was considered so great that the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent or—and this was equally the case for other NATO members—membership of an alliance whose ultimate defence was nuclear, was accepted. But I consider that one is in exactly the same ethical situation whether one has nuclear weapons oneself or if one is a member of an alliance whose defence system is based on the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. However, the removal of the clear and present danger provided by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact inevitably means that the ethical issues will have to be revisited in any discussion of the replacement of Britain’s nuclear capability. The case is certainly not easy to make, but on balance I feel that the degree of uncertainty and instability in the world is such that a social decision to renounce would have to be taken with very great care.
My second concern has always been to do with resources. Even during the Cold War it was not altogether clear, given the effectiveness of the Atlantic alliance and the nuclear capabilities of the United States, whether a duplication on this side of the Atlantic was a particularly useful allocation either of the defence budget or of the budget as a whole. The arguments we have heard today and are in the White Paper for a second decision centre have some merit in adding to the uncertainty facing one’s opponent, thus reinforcing the deterrence. But it is difficult to ignore the arguments of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that status might have a part to play. Indeed, in his remarks the noble Lord, Lord Powell, suggested that it certainly does. Again, in the current financial environment and the very difficult budgetary situation facing the Armed Forces, there must be assurances that the significant expenditure described in the White Paper, which will be spent between 2012 and 2027, is not achieved at the cost of the other pressing and immediate needs of the Armed Forces. Indeed, the experience of both the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the noble Lord, Lord Moonie, of dealing with this from within the Ministry of Defence was very revealing.
The political problems are related to proliferation. Those issues were discussed by my noble friend Lady Williams. I do not share the view that Britain’s renunciation of its nuclear weapons would have a direct effect on any of the existing nuclear weapons states or the potential proliferators, particularly Iran and North Korea. In that respect I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. On the other hand, the disappointing progress of nuclear arms control in the post-Cold War world has made it more and more difficult to maintain the non-proliferation regime. Although the 2000 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was a success, the failure of the 2005 review conference to agree any conclusions really set back a good deal what had been started in 2000, including in particular the 13 steps which were referred to. The failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the lack of progress on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty suggest to the non-nuclear weapons states that the nuclear weapons states are not treating their responsibilities seriously.
That is why I found it rather encouraging to read at the beginning of the year an article in the Wall Street Journal of 4 January signed by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, calling for a set of new initiatives to move to a world free of nuclear weapons. These are not woolly minded Liberal Democrats. Two former Secretaries of State, a former Secretary of Defense and a former Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee are an impressive quartet. Their first call is for the United States to,
“work with leaders of the countries in possession of nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise. Such a joint enterprise, by involving changes in the disposition of the states possessing nuclear weapons would lend additional weight to efforts already underway to avoid the emergence of a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran”.
The article went on to make a series of detailed proposals very similar to the six points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
While it may be thought that the present Administration in Washington will not necessarily respond immediately to this appeal—indeed, since 4 January there has been little sign that they have—there are signs that those thinking about the policy of an incoming Democratic Administration in 2009 are giving thought to some of these issues. That would increase the chances that the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2010 could provide a basis to take useful steps to arms control. This is a further argument for at least delaying the substantive decision until 2012 or 2014. Britain should also consider indicating its support for such a proposal and accept the suggestions made from these Benches that there should be a 50 per cent reduction in the number of nuclear warheads that we hold. Such would be perfectly consistent with maintaining an adequate minimum nuclear deterrent.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the charity Saferworld, an independent think-tank on security issues. Like others who have spoken, I congratulate the Government on having made this debate possible and I strongly agree with those noble Lords who have suggested that it would be good to have a similar opportunity soon to debate where we all stand on biological and chemical weapons.
Too often, from the 1950s onwards, the debate on nuclear weapons has been portrayed as one between those who, however reluctantly, see nuclear weapons as an essential part of our defence strategy and those who do not. This is a misleading oversimplification. There are many—I find myself among them—who, while not feeling able to join the ranks of CND, are convinced that all weapons of mass destruction must be abolished but that this is more likely to be achieved by a multilateral route.
However, there is a danger in that position. Faced with the powerful moral advocacy of those who support unilateralism, inadvertently—although, it has to be said, not always inadvertently—the energy of the multilateralists can in effect become caught up in a rationalisation for keeping the weapons rather than being tirelessly devoted to arguments for how we can use our possession of them to get meaningful results towards their global elimination. The Government still need to spell out much more convincingly just how, in the immensely difficult circumstances which surround us—North Korea, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Chinese military technology and the Russian nuclear arsenal in the context of possible political trends in the Russian Federation do not make it any easier—they are actively and meaningfully pursuing the global nuclear disarmament objective.
In the White Paper the Government argue that we have reduced our deterrent nuclear capability to just one nuclear weapons system and we have heard that again in this debate; that we are pledged to reduce the number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160, almost a 50 per cent reduction since 1997; that the operational status of our nuclear weapons system has been greatly reduced; that we have not conducted any nuclear tests since 1991; that we have increased the transparency of our fissile material holdings; that we have ceased production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and that we impatiently support the concept of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. That is not an insignificant record, and I believe it to be one in which the Government are entitled to take some pride.
As pointed out earlier, it is also striking that the NPT has been a remarkable success. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, reminded us, in the 1960s it was predicted that there would be between 25 and 30 nuclear states by 2000. So far that has fortunately not happened, but we must take care not to provoke it. The Government surely have to face the reality that at precisely this moment, with all the anxieties about Iran, North Korea and others, to tell the world that we are embarking on a multi-billion pound renewal of our deterrent puts all the good work in jeopardy. Whatever the explanations, the message received by much of the world will be that we are, after all, committed to our own nuclear capability, even if in this context scepticism reaches far beyond our shores on just how far our capability is really independent rather than making us still more beholden to the United States. Instead of rushing to a premature conclusion, is this not arguably the very time to be using our nuclear potential and the decisions that obviously have to be made about its future as leverage in strengthening the non-proliferation regime and giving a new spur to the global nuclear disarmament cause, rather than undermining international security by giving an inevitably new thrust to the motors of proliferation?
What plays into the hands of extremism across the world is what is seen as the arrogance of powerful nations in telling others how they should behave, even when this more or less explicitly involves telling the world that it must do as we say rather than as we do. The challenge, if we are to win the battle for enduring security, is to build a shared commitment to a common strategy in the interests of the already powerful, the aspiring and the less powerful alike.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, have rightly emphasised, the undertakings by the existing nuclear powers in Article VI of the NPT, which have been renewed at various review conferences, are highly significant and central to our credibility when we put pressure on Iran, North Korea or anybody else. The White Paper boldly and honestly states:
“We maintain our nuclear forces as a means of deterring acts of aggression against our vital interests and not for reasons of status”.
But any would-be nuclear power could see that as an example to be followed. We must be seen as convincingly and consistently committed to nuclear disarmament ourselves.
The old adage is that generals are always preparing to fight the last war. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has yet again made very obvious, this clearly does not apply to our present generation of generals, who are well aware of the changed nature of the threat. They want the resources to meet the current threat and they are not adequately getting those resources, as we all very well know. Exactly the same can be said of the police and intelligence services as they confront terrorism. To pre-empt vast public expenditure into the future for the renewal of the deterrent, when we have failed to provide the wherewithal for our military, police and security services to do what we are asking them to do today and probably for the foreseeable future, could well be described as irresponsible. I entirely accept that long-term strategic doubts mean we cannot discount the nuclear dimension; hence precisely my concern for effective multilateral nuclear non-proliferation regimes and disarmament, but why the rush for renewal? Of course, lead times are incredibly long, as I know from my own time as a Defence Minister, but there are questions to which we need far clearer answers.
In the wider public debate, specialist organisations, such as the British American Security Information Council, are keenly looking for answers to those questions. For example, by going firm now, what possibility is there that when the US begins its own renewal, we may be out of step? What would be the implications of that? With the huge costs entailed, with so many uncertainties and unknowns, how far ahead should we commit future Governments to bills for work that by their time in office may, by the latest analysis, be largely irrelevant and increasingly difficult to curtail? We only have to think of the Eurofighter. The Americans expect their Ohio-class submarines to go out of service in 40 years. Those submarines are comparable with our Vanguard-class vessels. Why do we expect ours only to have a further 25 years in service? Have the changes in operational requirements not improved the expected lifespan? In any case, is the concept of continuous at-sea deterrents still relevant? If not, what could be the benefits for the lifespan of our submarines? What maintenance programme might be possible to support a longer lifespan, and what would it cost?
I recognise the arguments for the continuous stealth capability and the argument that, without it, mobilisation of a submarine could escalate tensions, but there is a counter argument. The Government apparently favour the possibility, should the need arise, of sending a signal of intent. Mobilisation might well be seen as just that.
I do not favour procrastination in measures that are essential—I repeat essential—to the defence of our people. Being prepared is a vital discipline. As Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated, being prepared in the right way, with the right equipment, is the indispensable part of that. We are painfully recognising that in the context of our current overseas operations, while the Eurofighter continues its expensive aerobatics. Of course, judgments about probabilities and possibilities have to be made, but I do not see the evidence that all the necessary analysis or the necessary examination of options, to which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, referred, and which the renewal of our nuclear deterrent demands, has been fully completed. On the other hand, I am concerned that to make an unnecessary, premature decision will deny us the opportunity to see more clearly how the future threats and contexts are likely to be shaped, and to build the widest possible political consensus on the way forward.
Above all, I am totally convinced that multilateral disarmament and arms control, together with the draconian regulation of the arms trade, are central pillars for any meaningful defence and security policy. That certainly includes the nuclear dimension. Our efforts and drive should be intensifying in those spheres, rather than whipping up a neurosis of urgency for a premature decision that could be counterproductive, unnecessarily imperfect or even perhaps a wanton waste of public funds that are desperately needed in other military and security spheres.
My Lords, during the Cold War, I was a strong supporter of the policy of nuclear deterrence, albeit with some spiritual fear and moral trembling. I believed that there was a nuclear stalemate, and it could not conceivably have been in the interests of one superpower to initiate armed hostilities against the other. Although, thank God, that particular threat has passed, I entirely agree with the White Paper that we continue to live in a notoriously risky and uncertain world and we cannot calculate for sure what new threats lie over the horizon. I further agree with the Government when they write:
“The Government’s primary responsibility is for the security of current and future UK citizens”.
If I might say so, I am not soft on nuclear weapons or at all sanguine about the dangers of the world in which we now live. In fact, I believe that the situation of the world is now more dangerous than it was during the Cold War; however, as all noble Lords will agree, we now face a very different kind of threat. We need to ask whether there is any possible scenario in which an independent UK deterrent would be of use. The White Paper puts forward three possible scenarios, which have been and will continue to be well discussed, and I do not intend to do so in any detail now. But while the possession of nuclear weapons can, generally speaking, be a stabilising factor, I find it very difficult to conceive of any actual scenario in which they would or could be used, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, emphasised so strongly. I will return in a moment to the question of whether they could be used. Rather than focusing on possible scenarios for their use, I wish to approach this debate from a different angle, making four main points.
First, as I have already said, I entirely accept that the Government have a prime obligation to take all necessary steps to protect their citizens, and an independent UK deterrent is no doubt an extra safeguard. But is a decision to replace our deterrent really a reasonable and necessary step, or is it a safeguard too far, for reasons other than prudence? Life in this world can never be 100 per cent secure, and any attempt to make it such is bound to fail. Although we can all understand the anxiety that underlies life and the desire to be totally safe, policies driven by that are a form of hubris; that is, they attempt to achieve that which creaturely life simply does not offer. I do not often bring the scriptures into debates, but the Bible is full of warnings about people who seek their security other than where alone it can be found. This is not, I must emphasise, an argument for taking defence issues other than with the greatest seriousness. Governments ought to consider risks and be prudent, but in the nature of the case, they cannot do everything. They cannot foresee every possibility. They cannot make a country 100 per cent secure, and the attempt to do so flies in the face of reality.
The question in my mind, therefore, given the highly theoretical and speculative nature of the scenarios posited for the deployment of nuclear weapons, is whether a decision to replace the UK deterrent with a modernised version, to come into operation some time in the 2020s, is simply a sensible, prudent precaution or a step too far, driven by the anxiety shared by all human beings to protect us from every possible contingency. That policy is bound to have harmful consequences, because it is based on an illusory idea of total security.
There is another point which also concerns what might be driving such a policy. We are used to being one of the big players, one of the guests with our feet under the table, because of our possession of nuclear weapons. Are we reluctant to give up having an independent nuclear deterrent because we feel it would diminish our prestige, power and influence in the world? We are used to being a major power; we are comfortable with it, and it is easy to assume, unconsciously, that because in some ways we are not the power we once were, the possession of nuclear weapons somehow reassures us that we still are such a power. We need to ask searching questions about what is really driving the policy to replace our deterrent, and consider whether realistic prudence necessitates it, or whether there are other factors at work that we are, frankly, usually reluctant to acknowledge.
My second point concerns the morally problematic nature of any use of nuclear weapons. The purpose of deterrence is of course to deter, to ensure that no weapons are used or threatened against us, and therefore that our weapons do not have to be used either. The credibility of deterrence depends in the last analysis on a potential enemy believing that there are circumstances in which our weapons would be used against them. What are those circumstances? I have already said that I find it difficult to foresee realistic scenarios in which, from a military point of view, they would be used. My concern is whether from a moral point of view they could be so used. From a Christian perspective and on the basis of international law, any use of weapons has to be both discriminate and proportionate. It has to be discriminate—directed against military targets—and it has to be proportionate; that is to say, the collateral damage, above all civilian deaths, must not outweigh any possible good that might be achieved by the use of the weapons. It is good that the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Manchester, reminded us of those criteria.
During the Cold War, given the nature of communism and its evil and the sure stability of mutual deterrence, I could just about see how those criteria could be met, but we now live in a very changed world. What was morally problematic then is even more so now, give the particular kinds of threat that we face. Some think that you can have an effective deterrent system without considering possible uses. There is no doubt that the very possession of nuclear weapons has a deterrent effect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, emphasised. In the long run, for the deterrent to be credible, a potential enemy must believe that there are circumstances in which nuclear weapons would and could be used. Given the nature of current threats it is difficult to see how they would be used, and even more so to see how they could be used in a way that was both discriminate and proportionate.
Thirdly, there is our responsibility to stop nuclear weapons spreading to other countries. I am not naive enough to think that if we decide not to replace the Vanguard Trident D5 system, other countries will immediately give up their own nuclear weapons, or desist from trying to acquire them. Nations are driven by considerations of self-interest. However, the fact that we persist in possession of our weapons and, if we decide to follow the White Paper, will continue to do so at least until the 2040s brings forth understandable accusations of hypocrisy. We are, strictly speaking, within the terms of the non-proliferation treaty, but other countries can still say, “If they think that it is in their interests to retain a nuclear deterrent, why do they suggest that we should not have one, when we think that it is in our interests?”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and others pointed out.
If we became a non-nuclear-weapons power, at least we would not be open to that charge. We would also put down an important marker, like some other nations. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us that a significant number of at least medium-power nations have decided not to go nuclear, which they regarded as being in their national interest. We could say very clearly that, in the world we now live in, national self-interest does not always demand that we arm ourselves with the latest nuclear weapons.
The arming of states, especially with nuclear weapons, reflects a world based on a radical mistrust of one another. Sadly, we are right to be mistrustful. Terrible things have happened and can happen again. Yet the world cannot be built solely on mistrust; trust is no less essential. In the fine balance between trust and mistrust, on which international relations are built, to desist from replacing the Vanguard Trident D5 system would tip the balance slightly towards trust. Trust can engender mutual trust. I am not naive; this is not inevitable. It may be very unlikely, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others have pointed out, but interstate relations cannot be built on mistrust alone.
The White Paper says:
“The investment required to maintain our deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities our armed forces need”.
I find that very difficult to believe. No one can deny that what we need for the immediately foreseen threats are good intelligence and strong, well equipped, rapidly deployable conventional forces. The money saved by not going ahead with a nuclear deterrent—some £25 billion—could undoubtedly do a very great deal to enhance that capability, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said so powerfully.
While I, like the noble Lord, Lord Roper, think that some of the arguments are indeed very finely balanced, taken all in all, it would be wiser, as well as less morally problematic and would make for a safer world if we acknowledged that our present independent deterrent has served its purpose well, but should not now be replaced by a new generation of nuclear submarines or new, updated Trident systems. The prudent decision now is to concentrate all possible resources on our conventional capabilities to meet the immediately foreseen threats.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate this vital issue and I thank the Minister for his comprehensive introduction. I declare two interests. I am a member of the Armed Forces pay review board, speaking in this debate in a personal capacity. My long-term interest started in the 1960s, when—I suspect like many others—I totally opposed nuclear weapons as a CND supporter. I went on the marches, but never kept the t-shirts. In an ideal world I would have maintained that stance. Along with many others I recognised that to achieve the return of a Labour Government, we had to demonstrate our commitment to national security. One might call that pragmatism; I would not dispute it. Nevertheless, over time I came to believe that the unilateral approach was not the right one and that the multilateral approach was the way forward.
As has been said by others in this debate, one cannot help but feel that the energy and resources that go into producing weapons of war could and should be put to better uses, such as combating poverty, disease or climate change, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. Regrettably, we do not live in an ideal world, so I do not accept the unilateralist argument, put in many different ways during this fascinating debate, that it would set an example for others to follow. The activities of Iran, North Korea and China demonstrate the fallacy of this argument.
Like many others, I welcome the reduction in warheads and the single platform. It should, in theory, help to reduce costs, and it acknowledges our commitment to the non-proliferation treaty. There is a real concern that the £15 billion to £20 billion cost estimate may be exceeded, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, so eloquently put it. We cannot ignore public concern over our covenant with the Armed Forces. I hope the Minister can echo the Prime Minister in giving an absolute assurance that this expenditure will not have an impact upon our ability to suitably equip and reward our Armed Forces against a backdrop of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, believes that we can focus only on the problems of climate change. I do not deny its importance, but we cannot do that—and the nation would not thank us for doing so—at the expense of national security. I could not help but welcome the thoughtful analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and I share his view and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—who, unfortunately, is not in the Chamber at the moment—about the six points. I hope the Minister will take them into account during his reply. The points he made about steps to revitalise the non-proliferation treaty are well worth consideration.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws said that we prepared for war and what we got was war. I reflected on that, thinking that perhaps Winston Churchill’s view at the time was that we did not prepare for war and what we nearly got was probably one of the worst defeats that we could ever have suffered, so I did not quite understand the consistency of her point. She went on to say that the public had been taken by surprise. The Labour Government could be criticised for many things, but not for this. There was a manifesto commitment. I do not believe, as alleged by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that we have been in any way bounced into this debate. Nor do I share his view that having this debate shows a cynical approach, and that the decisions have all been taken. This is a debate of vital importance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, rightly drew our attention to the horrors of Hiroshima. As someone who has visited the city and its museum, I cannot help but acknowledge that. However, I also remember thinking at the time that I was glad that I did not have to take that appalling decision against the backdrop of the appalling Japanese war atrocities. I remember reading The Knights of Bushido as a young man and wondering how people could engage in that kind of conduct. These things must always be taken in context.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy said that nuclear deterrence was a nonsense concept. That is a matter of opinion. The experience of the Cold War denies that view. I accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the timing of this decision; the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, echoed that. Without demeaning his argument, I do not know whether the noble and right reverend Lord’s point about trust and mistrust was not a variation of the argument that if we abandon our deterrent then others will follow. I am not sure that there is any evidence to support that.
I welcome the Government’s approach. It is genuine and reflects our manifesto commitment for an open and transparent debate. I hope that the Minister will carefully address the points of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the question of giving an absolute assurance on the impacts of cost and expenditure, and the fact that the people of this country want to be sure that the Armed Forces are equipped and rewarded in a way that meets our covenant with them.
My Lords, I venture into a debate on the nuclear deterrent because I cannot stay silent when this type of question comes before us. I know nothing at all about military systems and not much about armaments, but I know a wee bit about people. I am concerned about the consequences of this House’s decisions for people. I thought that I would be a lone voice in my approach on these and other Benches, but I am not. Others share my deep concern. Whatever the weapon—a bullet, a cluster bomb or one of our nuclear weapons—it is always designed for one end alone: to maim and destroy.
During the Second World War, I lived not far from Liverpool. We could see the searchlights as they tried to identify the planes going overhead. We heard some of the bombs as they fell. We also learnt of the destruction in places like Coventry and London, and heard about Dresden. Whichever side the destruction was on, it was always destroying innocent people—children in particular. That is the approach I want us to take. We can talk about weapons systems, but what about systems of children, innocent adults and families?
The noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Tonge, mentioned the human consequences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Figures vary, but I am told that up to 200,000 people died in those two cities that August. So many others were horrifically injured. When I was at university, we were talking about the effect of things like the strontium-90 fallout from nuclear explosions. Somebody must answer for the dreadful number of those who have already suffered from this sort of bombing.
Noble Lords will remember, prior to the invasion of Iraq—to which these Benches were opposed—there was a t-shirt saying “Not in my name”. That is I why I am speaking this evening. Will any decision taken here be one of which we will proud to say, “I supported that” or, in the Commons, “We voted for that”? The consequences could be not just 200,000 but, because of the weapons we have today, millions of people. A noble Lord mentioned this evening that a modern warhead could wipe out the whole of London. We must lead the argument, “Not in our name”. We must adopt a moral stance, and see the effect that any decision will have on children.
When Trident was introduced over 20 years ago, there were still nations we could call a threat. You could then argue for this type of nuclear weaponry. As covered in the debate, however, neither China, France, the United States nor any other nation with nuclear weapons is a threat to us. The threat is the enemy within. That is where we should spend our money; on surveillance, intelligence and the apprehending of these people before they are able to create their own holocaust. We are combating part of a terrorist attack.
Is it not also true that any deterrent ceases to be a deterrent once it is used? My noble friend Lady Tonge mentioned Armageddon, and that could be the consequence once one nuclear weapon is used. Some have argued about the legality of war with this sort of weaponry. Of course it is illegal. Look at the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every child who is maimed in any way is a shattering of that convention. We think of the individual and those who suffer most.
We continue to rely on smaller and stronger armaments, but are we not giving the wrong impression to those other nations, especially in the poorest parts of the world? They are told, “You must have armaments and spend your few resources on weapons”, whether they be of mass destruction or more limited. Are we not sending them that message? Think of the annual cost, not only of producing these weapons but of maintaining them, and how that money could be spent in other ways; not only on surveillance, conventional armaments and so on, but also on tackling AIDS. In 2001, I think, a United Nations commission stated that £12 billion could offer hope to every AIDS sufferer in the world. The other day, I heard on the news that £2 billion from the UK would break the back of AIDS in Africa. Some of us will remember a campaign of a few years ago saying that the money spent on armaments in two weeks could give every family in the world pure, drinkable water.
There are so many things that need to be done, and so many ways we could spend our few resources in making the world a place of hope. The world needs worthy role models. Countries providing hope are examples worth following. Is this not the United Kingdom’s new opportunity? It is not easy—we have done things to make people suspicious of us—but it is possible to win the confidence of the most vulnerable people in the world over time, by our own example, as we withdraw from the brink of threats and destruction. Could not that be our new role?
I am glad that I am not a lone voice. Tonight my own party is making wonderful steps in the right direction to bring an end to this terrible nuclear threat that has faced the world.
Last week Mr Gordon Brown was in India. There, you remember, he stated that his great hero was Mahatma Gandhi. Many of us would agree with him. Whatever Mr Brown’s future role might be, we hope he will be able to change that admiration into action and positive measures. The alternative could be decisions by this Parliament that would condemn many millions of people to either no future at all—to oblivion—or a future in which they continued in their present desperate situation.
My Lords, I agree passionately with some of the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on the failure of successive Governments of this country to keep faith with the Armed Forces. I have argued for increased defence expenditure for many years; it should go up by an order of 25 per cent over seven or eight years. There is no way we can continue to call on our Armed Forces to perform the tasks that we ask of them with the resources that we have so far been giving them. I totally support what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said.
I also support the accuracy of what the noble Lord said about ring-fencing nuclear expenditure from the rest of the defence budget. This was touched on also by my noble friend Lady Symons and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. It is psychologically impossible to ring-fence nuclear expenditure. The Comprehensive Spending Review will produce a total defence budget and part of that will be nuclear. If you take the nuclear out of it, what is left is the sum of money that balances the books. While we would all like the protection of ring-fencing, it is, I am afraid, an illusion.
Let me come to the main substance of the debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Roper, I was surprised by the article in the Wall Street Journal, which I read more than once. I have it with me in the Chamber and I even persuaded my wife to read it because I thought it was extremely important, even though it argued against a lot of things that I hold very dear and believe in. I totally endorse the noble Lord’s assessment of the authority of the authors of that article and I commend it to noble Lords who might be interested in views other than my own.
I want to make it quite clear from the start that I am not comfortable with the non-proliferation treaty. I have no desire to live in a nuclear-free world and I am very glad that nuclear weapons were invented because I am persuaded that, as a result of the invention of nuclear weapons, we did not see a third world war in western Europe on top of the 10 years in which we slaughtered each other. I am quite convinced that that is one of the reasons we will never see another major land war in Europe.
I am also extremely glad that nuclear weapons were invented when they were invented. I am, of course, extremely sorry for what happened to the good people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but compare the descriptions that we heard most evocatively of the agonies that those poor people went through with what the alternative would have been, in terms of casualties on both sides, had there been an invasion of the territory of the empire of Japan. In addition, the deterrent would not have been created. Finally, I am extremely glad that nuclear weapons were invented by the United States of America and not by Germany or Japan. So I stand before noble Lords as somebody who is very happy that we have nuclear weapons. I sleep better in my bed at night for that and I am very surprised that lots of noble Lords do not feel the same, though they do not feel it apposite to say so on the Floor of this House.
The non-proliferation treaty is flawed. It is farcical to tell other people not to seek to provide the means to deter aggression, just as we in western Europe, China, Russia and the United States have done. I welcome the fact that India and Pakistan have acquired nuclear weapons and I will be very surprised if, as a result, stability in the Indian subcontinent is not greatly enhanced in the years ahead.
It may surprise your Lordships to learn that I am relatively relaxed about what is going on in North Korea and Iran. I will explain why. The Chinese seem very relaxed about North Korea; they do not seem to be putting pressure on the North Koreans. If the Chinese, who live next to these people, are relaxed, and the Japanese, who also live next to them, are relaxed and doing nothing about creating a nuclear capability of their own, I see no real reason for the rest of us to get too concerned. I happen not to think that this Dr Kim is a lunatic or a madman; I think he is a very clever gentleman who suffers from a lack of attention, which is what he craves. The idea that he is about to incinerate the countries around him, or even fire a missile at the Hawaiian islands or those off Alaska, is frankly farcical.
There are some very encouraging signs from Tehran that the views of Iran’s president do not find an echo in the opinions of those who actually control the country’s destiny. There are quite clear signs that, whatever his rhetoric may be, the president will not be allowed to proceed down a path that reflects that rhetoric. Again, interestingly, the people you might expect to be greatly concerned—the Saudis and the Egyptians—do not seem particularly upset about Iran. I see no sign that either the Egyptians or the Saudis want to procure nuclear weapons systems themselves, and the Saudis, of course, could clearly afford to do so should they wish to.
On the NPT, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is not in his place at the moment—it is unusual that I agree with him, which is possibly why he is not here—that very few countries have actually attempted to acquire a nuclear weapons system over the past many decades. He identified the countries that have drawn back from the brink, such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and others. People are deterred from acquiring a nuclear weapons system not just by the cost of creating warheads but by the cost of a delivery system.
The United Kingdom’s progressive nuclear disarmament over the past many decades will have done credit to CND. My noble friend Lady Symons listed some of those measures, although I am not sure that she included the fact that we gave up the nuclear depth bomb, artillery systems and air launch weapons or the current proposal for the reduction in the number of our warheads. I part company with my noble friend in her applause for this history. I do not rejoice in it and I do not rejoice in the progressive surrender of this country’s capacity for flexible decision-making. On this point I also part company with the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Above all, I find fault with the utter failure of all Governments to negotiate any quid pro quo for any of these steps. Every one of these measures has been an act of unilateral nuclear disarmament which, as I say, would have done CND proud. I deplore the abandonment of so-called sub-strategic systems.
However, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, which may surprise him but I hope will not embarrass him, that if we had to have such weapons systems—I do not say that he is enthusiastic for them—they should be far more accurate, deliver far less collateral damage and reduce the risk of innocent civilian deaths, although not all civilians are innocent.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for most generously giving way. While he has taken a very small point out of my speech, I suggest that he has perhaps made a little more of it than I had intended. I do not wish to be pernickety but to convey to the House the broader aspect that I think my speech put across, which was not intended to be, in any sense, an argument in favour of particular types of weaponry.
My Lords, I thought I might get the right reverend Prelate on his feet. I am very grateful to him for that clarification. Without patronising him, I merely point out that a consequence or an implication of what he said would be that he would favour sub-strategic systems that did not deliver the collateral damage of strategic systems. Therefore, there might be some use for the accuracy that we have in the D5 missile, which I have always thought quite otiose. I have always thought it absurd to put such an accurate system on a warhead with the throw weight that we are contemplating. That accuracy will be much more valuable in a tactical or sub-strategic system of the kind that would reduce casualties, which the right reverend Prelate would favour.
On platforms and submarines, I speak with great diffidence in front of one of my former mentors, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, who, as we all know, is a submariner. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made a point about the candidness of the Ministry of Defence. I remember very well when I was first on the Defence and External Affairs Sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee being told that we had a 12-year lead in the invulnerability of our submarines to detection. That was a science in which increments were very small and took some time to come about. We were always likely to have a 12-year lead because, as the Russians improved their capabilities, so we would improve our capabilities in reducing the vulnerability of the submarines. When I went back on to the Defence Committee, after being in government, I was surprised to be told that the lead was now down to about two years.
Subsequently, I learnt—I do not know whether my information is accurate—that the Soviets were in the lead on capabilities of submarine detection. Such is the advance of technology that I am worried it will not be long before that has some practical defence implications. It seems to me an unambiguous argument for our having four boats. I will need an awful lot of persuading that three boats will make an adequate fleet. Of course, submarines are vulnerable, not just to the actions of hostile forces but also to such things as the breakdown of the refrigeration system, particularly at the start of a 90-day patrol, so that there is no fresh food for the people on board.
I defer to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, who knows far more about these things than I do. What is absolutely certain is that, when we had four boats, on more than one occasion we found it very difficult to keep one of them on quick-reaction alert. Never mind what anybody tells me about improvements in technology; I shall need a lot of persuading that we can be absolutely certain of preserving a 24/7, 365-day capability with only a three-boat fleet.
I welcome the White Paper. I agree with its preference for ballistic over cruise missiles. I agree that if we have only one platform it has to be a sub-surface platform. Of course, we shall have a debate, but I find it inconceivable that any British Prime Minister could hand over the ultimate defence of these islands to the president of the United States or the president of France. Were he to do so, I do not think that he would last very long in office and nor, in my view, should he do so.
My Lords, the future of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent is a major national issue. I welcome the opportunity that this thoughtful debate has given us to start to explore so many factors. The key decision, to which many noble Lords have alluded, is whether the United Kingdom should plan to continue as a nuclear-weapon state. We have heard a diversity of views from all sides of the House, which is scarcely surprising. It reflects the divided views throughout the country. A Populus opinion poll was reported in the Times on 13 December last year which said that 52 per cent of the population is in favour of staying in the nuclear business.
Like many other noble Lords, I have history in this area, not in terms of being a unilateralist or a Minister, but I have been closely involved with the national nuclear capability since I first sat at 15-minutes readiness in quick reaction alert Canberras with American nuclear bombs aboard in Germany nearly 40 years ago, and I went on to Vulcan nuclear bomber squadrons. In the wonderful days when the Ministry of Defence did not mind one writing books about policy issues, I wrote a book on nuclear policy as a group captain and later, in the MoD in the 1990s, I was involved in the operational and defence programme issues of our deterrent force.
I retell all that to show that, over the years, I have been deeply immersed in the issues from a military perspective. During the Cold War, I never doubted for a moment that the nuclear deterrent was an important part of preventing a nuclear war, yet when I turn to the issue now I find that I have to think very carefully about the balance of the arguments for and against the retention of our nuclear capabilities. I do not share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for a fully nuclearised world and letting everyone get on with it.
From all sides of the House, we have heard the arguments for retention or for renouncing nuclear weapons. We heard contributions from the various speakers who are not for keeping our nuclear capability. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, my noble friend Lord Roberts, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, my noble friends Lady Miller and Lady Tonge, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and others all made powerful and important cases that need to be heard and examined. Those who wish to renounce the capability argue that our nuclear weapons are immoral, unethical, illegal, provocative, unaffordable or unnecessary.
In coming to my own judgment, I have started from a basic assumption that nuclear weapons have only one purpose—on this I disagree with my noble friend Lord Roberts, who describes all weapons as designed to maim and kill. The only purpose of a nuclear weapon is to deter the use of other nuclear weapons. If our weapons are ever used, they will have failed in their purpose. Therefore, I find no great problem with the immorality or the legality of deterrence. In that sense, I welcome the announcement of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, of the abandonment of the sub-strategic system, which was always a dubious concept. It is good to know that tonight that has gone into the history books.
On need, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, asked some very important questions that have to be answered. A much more difficult analysis needs to be done. We are trying to assess the strategic situation out as far as the middle of the century. We are not threatened by any nuclear-weapon state today, but we might find ourselves at risk in the next 40 years or so. However, we cannot simply say that because we might find ourselves at risk we must have nuclear weapons. We must also examine how our nuclear status impacts on other states in their strategic assessments. By retaining nuclear weapons, do we increase the risks of proliferation by setting a poor example, as some noble Lords, including the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and other noble Lords have argued this evening? I do not believe that maintaining our historical position as one of the five recognised nuclear-weapon states is likely to affect the decision-making of potential proliferators one way or the other. They will come to a decision based on their national concerns, and we need to use all the levers of arms control and diplomacy to influence them in a benign direction, as my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Roper argued.
However, as we have heard, despite the international community’s best efforts, proliferation is happening, limited as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, explained. We have had to add Israel, India and Pakistan; North Korea is on the threshold of a nuclear capability; and many noble Lords spoke of the widespread suspicions about the work that Iran is undertaking. Kofi Annan warned of the potential cascade of proliferation that may happen as a result of the current state.
I also suggest that the co-operative relations between the five nuclear-weapon states are not certain to be maintained over such long timescales. The Chinese anti-satellite test last week showed how policies can change quite unexpectedly in the sensitive area of strategic relationships. We have also grown more wary of Russia’s intentions recently, so I believe that there are sufficient causes for concern in the nuclear area to justify the United Kingdom continuing to take advantage of its special position as a recognised nuclear-weapon state. In doing that, we must use that special position to work hard to prevent proliferation and towards the goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, as so many noble Lords said.
Having made the assessment that we should, in current circumstances, continue as a nuclear power, I turn to the question of the way that we maintain a credible deterrent as cost-effectively as possible. Many noble Lords talked about the opportunity costs that arise from that. My noble friend Lord Wallace described how, as a party, we have been working in parallel on the options under the able chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Roper. We published our conclusions the week before the government White Paper came out. Our broad thrust has much in common with the Government’s analysis, and I shall therefore concentrate only on where we differ.
We agree that the deterrent should be submarine-based and that we should make use of the US life-enhancement programme for the Trident missile, which will save costs and allow us to concentrate on the question of platforms—the submarines. We agree that we should take the opportunity to reduce our nuclear arsenal. That would show that we are serious about Article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty. The Government opted for a welcome cut of 20 per cent, but that will probably not be noticed by the rest of the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, suggested, we need to look at how far we can go with that cut. Our benchmark cut is 50 per cent. That is more dramatic, and when we look at what that means in practice, we are talking about each submarine going out with 24 independently targeted nuclear warheads aboard. Does anybody really think that that would be insufficient to deter any future enemy? The noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, called for a debate on these issues and said that we need time to think about them. He is quite right.
In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, argued at length to justify the timescales that appear in the White Paper for early replacement. I do not want to re-enter the argument about the planned life of the Vanguard submarines that I had in a rather unsatisfactory exchange with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House when the White Paper was launched on 4 December. I have the references from the SDR, the 2003 White Paper and the HCDC evidence that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, gave on 13 July 1998, and I have an article from the Times of 30 December 2002 that quotes the noble Lord, Lord Moonie, when he was a defence minister, as saying,
“we will maintain a nuclear deterrent and that means Trident to the end of its useful life, a minimum of 30 years”.
We used to plan on a figure of 30 years, even if that has now changed.
The question is how urgent the decision is. We do not need to argue about the particulars of how long it can be extended because we need to do some research to work that out. However, one element we can help ourselves with is, if we go with the three-boat solution, which we recommend, and that decision is made early rather than being left late, it gives us an extra two years to think about what to do and puts off the main-gate decision. A number of noble Lords, some of whom held ministerial appointments in the procurement area, remarked on how generous the MoD is being to itself in allowing 17 years to produce a new submarine that works to a well known design. The original Trident programme had to do the missile, the warhead and the submarine, and it did them in 14 years. We seem to be giving ourselves lots of time, which makes making the decision about what system to go for that much more urgent.
We need to look at the options for further life extensions to the Vanguard submarines. My noble friend Lady Williams quoted Professor Richard Garwin, as did other noble Lords. It is no good discounting him as not knowing about submarines, but I shall not go through his CV. He and his team have done a great deal of work on this. If it turns out to be true, which we do not have to accept, that there is some even further extension of life—maybe not the full 15 years that he suggested, but another five years—that gives us more time to look at the options for the future.
Why should we put this decision off as long as possible? One reason is that we have to plan for a benign contingency. None of us expects it, but it is possible that arms control will get going again in these timescales. To commit ourselves to vast expenditure that turns out to be nugatory would be foolish. Professor Garwin has a different reason for delaying our decision, which is that new technologies will allow more reliable and cheaper systems. I am slightly dubious about that, but it needs to be looked at.
My noble friend Lady Miller spoke about how the doomsday clock has been moved. I was at the ceremony last week where it was moved forward two minutes. There was a great deal of pessimism about the possibility of small-scale nuclear use in the near future by some of the proliferating powers. If it were to happen, that might generate arms control enthusiasm in a way that there has not been before.
There is another aspect we have to think about. The life-extension programme of Trident missiles takes them to 2042. That is when the US missile system presumably will be replaced; its submarines were extended to 2045. If we are thinking about going for an American system, there would be some sense in making sure that we are synchronised with the Americans, so that we do not end up half way through the life of our new system without having American support for it. All these sorts of issues need to be looked at. I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, to give us the detail of how all this will be done because I think that it will take months if not years to look at the options and get them right.
However, I will just focus on why I think that the decision is being rushed. It is industrial pressure; indeed, that is what BAE Systems told the Commons Defence Committee when it gave evidence. It argued that it would need to build a new submarine every 22 months in order to maintain their design and build capability. I do not know how many nuclear submarines that means we will have by 2050, but it will be quite a lot if we have to buy one every 22 months. I do not think that the Minister necessarily can afford that many. But we are in danger of having this most important strategic decision driven by an industrial demand rather than by the right analysis.
The noble Lord, Lord Owen, reminded us of the effect this has on the Royal Navy, and the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, reminded us of how these financial commitments distort the programme. But, in spite of all that, I remain hopeful that despite all the rhetoric about early decisions and the fact that we are going to have it sorted out by March, the Government are not that far away from the position I have described.
We talk about the White Paper as though it is a final decision. I remind your Lordships that the aircraft carriers were announced in the 1998 White Paper, yet nearly nine years later there is no contractual commitment to particular ships. A lot of development work on options has taken place during that time; and the Trident run-on, or whatever it is, will be no different. Given the pressures on the defence programme, I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will use his talents to put the squeeze on industry to find the optimum approach. That must include a proper look at what life extensions are realistically possible to the submarines. We all know that it profits industry to go for new build. The Minister needs to have independent views, and that includes views independent of those in his department who go on to work for the industry which is trying to sell him these submarines.
I doubt that, whatever party is in power, main gate will be before 2014, and I think that it could be much later. Perhaps in answer to the delay issue and so on, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, can take advice and just give me one date. When is he expecting main gate for his submarines? If it is before 2014 I will be very surprised.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, called for consultations. I totally agree. This is the start of a national debate, I hope, and not the end of a national debate. As your Lordships have heard from the Benches behind me, we in our party have many diverse views. We are going to take the policy that I have outlined to our spring conference to have it adopted or modified by the party. I will be very interested to hear what the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman is going to do to sample the opinion of his party. The Populus poll shows that 64 per cent of his party supports nuclear weapons, so he will probably have a moderately easy time with the policy. What will the Labour Party do to sample public opinion? That stands at 45 per cent, which suggests that it has problems. I am happy to tell the House that the Populus poll shows that Liberal Democrats were at 52 per cent—exactly the same as the rest of the nation. I look forward to hearing how the Labour Party will sample public opinion in a realistic way—and it should start with its members.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, for arranging this very important debate. I echo his words in paying tribute to the skills and professionalism of our Vanguard crews and their support staff.
The House will know from what my noble friend Lord Howell said in his excellent opening speech that my party sees no difficulty in supporting the Government’s policy as set out in the White Paper. We believe that the arguments put forward represent the only responsible course of action.
My right honourable friend David Cameron, in his initial response to the White Paper in another place, said that,
“I agree with the Prime Minister both about the substance of this decision and about the timing. It is a vital matter for our national security, and it requires a long-term approach”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/06; col. 24.]
Our reservations and questions, so far as the White Paper is concerned, relate not to the policy itself but rather to the will and ability of the Government to carry the policy proposed through, fully and in a timely manner. The policy set out in the White Paper will entail a short-service life extension for the present system. Will the Minister confirm when that programme will be formally authorised? The real argument is no longer about the nature and relevance of deterrence, nor is it about the use of nuclear weapons. It is about the decision that this country will retain, for the foreseeable future, a secure and recognised ability to respond conclusively, anywhere in the world, should circumstances demand it. To ensure that, we need to get right, first, the platform, secondly, the missiles, including their launch and guidance systems, thirdly, the warheads and, fourthly, the phasing and control of the costs.
On the platform, we accept that only submarines provide the necessary security and range. The right course is therefore to build an appropriate number of new submarines—the new Vanguards, for short. Whether the appropriate number is three or four does not require an immediate decision, but it has implications that will need to be weighed in the overall cost of investment. In their excellent speeches the noble Lords, Lord O’Neill and Lord Rodgers, called for a three-boat fleet. I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, in wishing to see a four-boat fleet, as all sorts of unforeseen circumstances can occur, and technology needs to be improved enormously before we reduce the number of submarines to three.
It has been suggested that Britain should wait as long as possible before making any decisions, so that our future needs might become clear. However, the future is always uncertain and there is no reason to suppose that it will become any more predictable than it is today. The Government estimate a 17-year period from starting detailed studies until the first patrol by the new submarines. We do not think that excessive, bearing in mind the difficulties encountered with the Astute-class submarines. Will the Minister ensure that the MoD learns from the mistakes of the Astute programme?
It will be essential that industry collaborates far more than it has to date to drive down costs in the manner envisaged by the DIS, and the MoD must be consistent and clear about its operational requirements. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, called in her excellent speech for the length of the procurement process to be shortened, and asked some important questions about how the contractor will be selected, about timetables, and about how costs will be monitored and controlled.
The building of submarines is an essential skill for which, for many reasons, we need to retain sovereign capability. The Defence Select Committee in the other place emphasised that if the Government want to continue to maintain their nuclear submarine capability—and its workforce—then there must be a continuous rhythm of work, especially once the Astute programme is finished and the Vanguard successor starts. The Select Committee was also concerned, as was the noble Lord, Lord Moonie, that we may be losing the skills to build and maintain a replacement for Trident. The shortage of engineers was of particular concern. What are the Government planning to do to address that?
Concerning the missiles, it is necessary to have a ballistic missile capability—because of their much greater range and more certain penetrative power—as well as conventionally armed TLAM cruise missiles, which we have now acquired. Ballistic missiles are the only system that can deliver the global effect at place and time of choice, with autonomy through national and international air space. For the missiles, we should be content to look to the United States in furtherance of existing detailed arrangements. It has been made sufficiently clear—not least in the evidence of the Ministry of Defence to the House of Commons Defence Committee—that a degree of procurement dependence does not carry with it operational dependence, notwithstanding cries to the contrary.
The United States is already committed to a life- extension programme for the Trident missiles themselves. If the United Kingdom is to participate it needs to make a decision this year, which may be driving the decision timescales as much as the lead time to build the new boats. What assurances have the Government sought and received from the Americans that we will be able to participate in the US Navy’s life- extension programme for the D5 missile? There is plenty of scope for Britain and the US to work more closely together on submarine, nuclear reactor and warhead design and build—as well as developing more affordable acquisition, operation and support strategies.
On warheads, the continued well publicised determination of Russia to retain and update its ballistic missiles, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Garden and Lord Rodgers, taken with the efforts of several other countries to acquire nuclear warhead capability, makes it self-evident that we should retain ours. Can the Minister comment on the point made by my noble friend Lord Hamilton and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that our new Vanguard should be able to launch cruise missiles with conventional warheads?
On the cost of the new submarines, the Government will need to provide a more detailed explanation of how and from where they will find the money. When my honourable friend Julian Lewis asked the Prime Minister whether extra funds would be allocated outside the defence budget to pay for the renewal of the deterrent, the Prime Minister’s answer was that that was “very much sui generis ”. I have most of my Latin. Does that mean that the extra funding will be found or not? The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, gave some comfort on the issue in his opening speech, but that has concerned many speakers and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, will reinforce the commitment given by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, pointed out that the Armed Forces are already irresponsibly underfunded and must not suffer further from the continuation of the deterrent. My noble friend Lord Hamilton was concerned that the new submarines might come at the expense of the carriers, and I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure him on that point. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, went some way to reassure the House on that last week at Question Time, which we very much welcome.
The Royal Navy continues to have considerable conventional duties to perform, but the Government are busy mothballing ships to save money. The Navy does not want its conventional budget to be raided to pay for the new generation of nuclear deterrent. I hope that the Minister will address the chilling but probably accurate observations by my noble friend Lord Hamilton and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on that issue.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford asked about reusing the existing designs of the Vanguard submarines. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, took a pop at the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and rightly pointed out that we should not deprive our children and grandchildren of the security benefits that we have enjoyed. The noble Lord enjoys taking a pop at me from time to time at Question Time, so I hope that he will not be embarrassed if I say that I agreed with most of his speech tonight.
Like my noble friend Lord Marlesford, I was a bit confused by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I always listen with great interest to his speeches, but I was surprised that he rehashed the argument that this is all about the Prime Minister’s legacy. It was a manifesto commitment and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Garden, that the objective of a deterrent is to deter the use of other deterrents. I also agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, that it would be unwise to abandon the security of those submarines. The noble and gallant Lord is a very distinguished submariner himself—the only speaker, I am sure, who has commanded a nuclear submarine. I hope that his speech will be carefully read—especially his advice that the present boats are hugely expensive to maintain and that it would be impossible to push their use beyond a five-year extension.
Just as we welcomed the line of policy in the SDR—as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, that is now nine years ago—that the Royal Navy will be provided with two new large aircraft carriers, so we welcome the policy to continue, for the foreseeable future, this country’s recognised ability to respond through the Royal Navy with a global reach.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said, we will be safer with this deterrent than without it, but, bearing in mind the appalling delays with the carriers, I hope that we will not see similar delays in drawing up and signing contracts for the new submarines.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Drayson for his candid and eloquent presentation at the opening of the debate, and to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for an outstandingly thoughtful response. I hope I do not embarrass him by saying that I am on the same page. This is a discussion about global discipline and the contribution to international security systems, and it is absolutely true that we are none of us islands unto ourselves in this system of global integration.
I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I was very pleased to see that there is a good deal of cross-party support for many of the principles underlying the Government’s decision. That was clear from the summary given by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, a few moments ago. If the House does not mind, I shall immediately run through the issues that he put to me before I move on. First, he will not expect me to comment on the formal authorisation of the programme. That is never announced before contract; it is a commercial issue. The MoD will certainly take the lessons of the Astute programme very seriously; it is important to have clear operational requirements.
On skills, the noble Lord sought assurances about what we and the Americans have said about the D5 missile programme. I think it is helpful to note that there is agreement. I will return to the issue of cruise missile submarines later but will say now that we do not envisage the dual use of them. I will also return to the issue of funding, because it must be found. It is quite clear that it will not compromise the carriers. The Navy may take a little encouragement from the fact that HMS “Dauntless”, a £1 billion destroyer, was launched only yesterday and that another is on the way. This is all good news.
Whether or not the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, is the devil’s advocate in this, he plainly discounts any role for the deterrent at the moment. Either one agrees or disagrees with him, and I disagree with him. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is plainly no advocate for the devil, but he made similar points about the credibility of the purpose of the programme, and I hope to show in my concluding remarks that it is not hubris that drives us but prudent defence. I hope to address all the issues raised.
On 4 December, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s decision to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent. He stated that we had decided to build a new class of submarines to act as a platform for the deterrent, and, further, that we had decided to participate in the United States life-extension programme for the D5 missile. Finally, he announced that we will now cut our stockpile of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160, a cut of nearly a half compared with the plans of the previous Government. He made it clear that he hoped for a substantial public and parliamentary debate on that process—a process which, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, said, started with the party manifestos. It has been a consistent part of Conservative Party manifestos, and I believe that the debate has momentum in all the major political parties and well beyond, which is useful.
Critics of the Government’s decision have raised issues of morality, legality, hypocrisy, rationale and cost, which I shall look at in turn. There are issues of balance in all of them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, said. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Garden, set out some of them. I welcome the overall grasp of the subject injected into the debate by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. His knowledge of these matters probably goes well beyond that of almost anyone in the House. Moreover, it is objective knowledge. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, has shared in that to some extent, and he has done a fair bit, if I may compliment him, to re-establish some sense on his Benches that they will need to deal with the diverse views, as he put it.
First, on morality, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, tested this ground. I do not entirely agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Archer and my noble friend Lady Kennedy, but I respect their views. Some have suggested that the possession of nuclear weapons is morally corrupting and cannot be justified under any circumstances. They are entitled to hold that opinion and I am entitled to disagree. Moral judgments are rarely simple. As Sir Michael Quinlan has said, any proponent of the absolutist moral argument against the possession of nuclear weapons must argue that, even if a Hitler were to possess nuclear weapons, it would be morally wrong for the United Kingdom to possess a counterbalancing deterrent force. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, mentioned the blitz. I do not know what he thinks would have persuaded the Nazis to call off the Luftwaffe, but I believe that it was our forces and the will of the people of the United Kingdom not to live under a vile dictatorship.
For more than 50 years, as my noble friend Lord Gilbert said, Governments of the United Kingdom have judged the continued possession of a nuclear deterrent to be morally preferable. Why? Because the morally worse outcome is to accept a real risk of a nuclear attack on this country’s vital interests, which would of course have catastrophic consequences. The Government are firm in our view that the judgment remains applicable today. We see no fundamental change in global circumstances that alters the moral calculus, nor, may I say, do other nations.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, who had generally welcomed the White Paper, spoke in this context of the role of ambiguity. He said that it was ethical to ask those questions. It may be ethical not to answer the questions. The answer may allow a power devoid of the ethics that we espouse to inflict the harm that we strive to avoid. Our aim by deterrence is to avoid use. The bones of the strategy developed over the decades have been well understood by the public without elaboration of hypothetical situations. My noble and learned friend Lord Archer asked what were the strategic purposes. They are to prevent Hiroshimas in a world where nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented.
By the way, we do not use megaton bombs, as was suggested. That is the point of having a deterrent. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Roper. Given the moral equation here, renunciation makes no sense in the light of the dangers and insecurities of the world or the likely pattern of the period ahead.
I turn to legality. As my noble friend Lord Drayson said, it is entirely lawful for the UK to possess nuclear weapons, and for us to maintain and renew our capability. The UK is a recognised nuclear-weapons state under the non-proliferation treaty. Renewal of the Trident system is fully consistent with our international obligations, including those on disarmament under Article IV of the treaty. That article does not establish a timetable for unilateral disarmament, either nuclear or general, and does not state that replacement or updating of currently held systems is unlawful. Indeed, since the non-proliferation treaty came into force, all five nuclear-weapons states have taken steps to update their deterrents.
These are the facts pertinent to the legality of the UK’s continued possession of nuclear weapons. Nothing I have heard this evening changes that. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been clear in their insistence on more work on the non-proliferation treaty, and I have no doubt that they will continue to be clear in debate. The potential use of nuclear weapons—
My Lords, is my noble friend suggesting that the distinction between the nuclear-weapons powers and the non-nuclear states was intended at the beginning to last into eternity and that the non-nuclear states are now content with that situation?
My Lords, I do not know about eternity but I take wholly the position that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised in his question. Sine die is a more recent decision and is a reflection of the intention to have a stable system that recognises the reality of those who do and those who do not have weapons at the moment, without wishing to see those weapons extended across other countries. That has proved a sensible tactical provision. The noble Lord, Lord Powell, made that point in relation to how others have seen the deterrent capacity. He mentioned the example of the first Gulf War, which I thought particularly pertinent.
Article VI of the non-proliferation treaty places an obligation on all member states to pursue the necessary negotiations to achieve the goal of disarmament. The UK shares the goal of a world free from nuclear weapons and will continue, therefore, to press for multilateral negotiations towards a mutual, balanced and verifiable reduction in them.
The United Kingdom’s record on disarmament is outstanding. My noble friend Lady Symons helpfully elaborated on it and my noble and learned friend Lord Archer confirmed it. We have the smallest stockpile. I will not go through the issues of the single platform, the numbers and so on, but I believe that it has been successful. Some have suggested that we should go further and reduce the number of warheads to just 100, with 24 on patrol. I have been trying to multiply 24 by 3 and I cannot get to 100, but someone will no doubt tell me that my maths can be improved. This bears no relation to any detailed assessment of what will deter.
I understand that the Liberal Democrats have been through a process, but I believe that essentially their figure is plucked from the air. The Government’s figure of fewer than 160 reflects a careful, responsible reassessment of our minimum deterrence requirements based on military and civilian expert advice.
My Lords, the existence of any warhead would help to deter an enemy, but you have to have a credible system which is deployable at all times and capable of doing the whole job, not just a proportion of the job that sounds attractive on the day. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the White Paper makes it clear that most of the six points are at the heart of the Government’s policy on non-proliferation. I want to confirm that. On the proposal for an international nuclear fuel bank, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, we are actively engaged with the IAEA to take forward those proposals, although I cannot say what the likely conclusions will be. We must pursue that discussion with great energy.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Judd mentioned the pattern of the work in which we need to engage to be credible. We continue to be active on disarmament internationally. In 1998, we ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We support the proposal for a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and the call for the immediate start of negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Finally, as mentioned by a couple of noble Lords, we continue to make progress on the 13 practical steps towards nuclear disarmament agreed by consensus at the 2000 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
Some noble Lords have argued that it is hypocritical for the United Kingdom to maintain its deterrent while arguing that others cannot develop one. It is not, because, as I have said, the NPT recognises legitimately the UK as a nuclear-weapons state and has imposed certain obligations, which we fulfil. My noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green spoke of the desire to deal with this by multilateralism, which we must do in order to overcome any allegation of hypocrisy. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, is right to describe the proliferators—potentially Iran and most certainly North Korea—as having obligations but not ones which they would change on the basis that they were attentive to what we are doing rather than their own interests. As states they undertook not to pursue nuclear weapons and to ensure that their civil nuclear programmes were under IAEA safeguards, and they have not fulfilled those obligations. I do not think that we are the hypocritical ones in this equation. They signed up to the treaty and they are now actively undermining it. While we are setting an example of disarmament, they are escalating armament.
There is no evidence or probability that unilateral disarmament by the UK will make it any more likely that this position would change. It is instructive to note the international response to the Prime Minister’s announcement of our position. There has been no great outcry. Incidentally, I have other polling results for the Labour Party, which I shall share outside the Chamber if that is helpful—they are very much closer to the Conservative outcome. There have been three main reasons why there has been no outcry. First, our record on disarmament is genuine and shows that we are a constructive actor in international negotiations.
Secondly, alongside our decision to maintain our deterrent, we have announced a further 20 per cent reduction in our warhead stockpile, so we have reduced by nearly a half since 1997. The United Kingdom is consequently recognised as being honest about its obligations under the NPT. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about the centrality of the NPT. I do not think we should lecture others, of course, but we must try to sustain all aspects of that treaty.
Finally, my strong impression is that few if any expect us to do anything different. Why? Because very few believe that the conditions for unilateral disarmament exist. We must build the durability of the treaty, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, also said. That must be how we also consider the final decisions on the numbers of boats and warheads.
This takes me to the fourth issue: the reasons why the Government have been criticised for the rationale behind the decision. The Government are clear that we wish to maintain our nuclear weapons capability, only because of the power of such weapons to deter states that may seek to threaten or blackmail us with nuclear weapons. The noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, drew from firsthand experience on this central point.
It is reasonable, therefore, to ask who those states might be. Indeed, this was the first question we asked ourselves, and the answer is that we do not know. We do not know because you cannot predict these things with absolute confidence, not in today’s world. We are talking here about 50 years into the future. Thirty years ago, almost nobody would have predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, or the emergence of the kinds of asymmetric warfare that have taken place. Who truly knows? As the pressures of proliferation mount, what will happen 30 years hence? I think that it would be rash and irresponsible to assume today that we will live in a world which will be completely secure and non-malign, without the need for the nuclear insurance. It would be unforgivable as a gamble for the British people. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, gave us wise, historical advice on this.
We do know some things, however. We know that none of the existing nuclear weapons states proposes unilateral disarmament. We know that large nuclear arsenals remain and that some are being modernised. So we must deal with these possibilities, preparing for the worst, while continuing to work for the best. We must assume that the international security situation will continue to be tense, with conflicts driven by extremism. We conclude that, although some of it is not quantifiable, we must certainly prepare with very great care.
I want to say a few words about terrorism. We do not believe that the nuclear deterrent is effective against individual terrorists—I have never heard anybody in the House make any such proposition. The United Kingdom has an intensive strategy for managing the risks from terrorism and the Government are investing heavily in a range of capabilities to deal with them. But we still need to insure against a different range of potential threats that only nuclear weapons can deter, even though new threats such as terrorism have plainly emerged. We need to invest in a range of capabilities to deal with all of these threats. The deterrent can help to deter some of the risks that do occur under the rubric of terrorism. Clearly, nuclear weapons do not protect us from suicide bombers carrying plastic explosives, but I believe that some states may well be deterred from transferring nuclear weapons, or nuclear technologies, to terrorists.
Let me turn to cost—I promised to address this question. Would the money spent on maintaining our nuclear deterrent be better spent elsewhere? I believe that my noble friend Lord Drayson dealt with the assurance on broad expenditure on conventional forces. I repeat what he said:
“The Government have undertaken that any additional investment will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities of our Armed Forces”.
In saying that, I know that if it turns out not to be true, we will be held to account. But I do assert it this evening. I cannot announce for my noble friend Lord Young the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review, but I am quite clear about the commitment that we have made.
I do not accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, although I take it very seriously. If we believe in a ballistic system, he is entitled to call for the expenditure that would match that being ensured without cutting into other things. But I do not think that we can step from that to a point at which we say that unless all these things are spelt out at the same moment, we should not proceed with the process I have described. Incidentally, we have developed a cruise missile with France, which I am told is called the Storm Shadow. I am not an expert on this, but the noble Lord may well be.
However, the point about the cruise missile is this: there is a higher risk and there is a higher cost. The ballistic missile system provides a lower risk. We know the system and we do not have to build it again from the start. It is a system that is in existence and we have already paid for it, although of course it has to be maintained and updated. We have opted for what is cost-effective, not for something at a disproportionate cost, in order to achieve the minimum deterrent on this platform. We do not intend to bet at this point on a cruise missile. The noble Lord, Lord Powell, wanted me to clarify that this reflects the best of the options available. Perhaps I may say that the figures on cost have been given to noble Lords. I was intrigued to note that the cost is less than one third of what is spent on National Lottery tickets.
Defence aside, the Government have invested wisely in other services in the United Kingdom such as health and education, and we are investing in international affairs by tackling issues such as climate change and relieving poverty in Africa. I do not think that this is a country which can simply choose to do one or the other if we take international security seriously. We recognise that the first responsibility is to the defence of our citizens and we recognise that only nuclear weapons can provide the deterrent against nuclear threats.
The United Kingdom has complete freedom of action in this, a point made by my noble friend Lord Drayson. Of course I should say to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that the UK does so in co-operation with its allies, and indeed I doubt whether there is a modern weapons system where there are not some components bought in the international market. The debate comes down to three questions. First, do we have to take a decision on nuclear capability? The answer is plainly yes, and the full range of defence capabilities need to be assured against that background. Secondly, do we have to take the decision now? The answer in my view is clearly yes. If we fail to start our preparations now, we will miss the initial insurance premium and there will be no ready way of moving back on to a reliable timetable. No doubt later parliaments will judge whether the world is more Benign, but we need to prepare now or leave no choices on credible defence for those future Parliaments. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, described it as a position where we are dealing with complexity, and he is quite right. But this goes also to the skills point. If we do not start these processes, we will not protect the industry or the skills in it by ensuring that they are available to us at the point at which they are needed. That point was also made by my noble friend Lord Moonie.
On the third question about the length of time of procurement, I shall make just a couple of points. Seventeen years is the best estimate of the whole project from start to finish. It is one which is very close to the view of the United States and France, and we have discussed with them their own experience of this. I do not believe that it will turn out to be radically wrong. It is right that we should try to make sure that it is as short as it credibly can be, but in desiring to give an assurance to industry, the gateway point is 2012 to 2014. I confirm those dates for when the build will start process, although it is hard to be precise within those dates. But as my noble friend Lady Symons said there must be rigorous control over costs and timetables, which have to be consistent and improving. I am sure that the Public Accounts Committee will be demanding in those aims, and we intend to meet its intentions.
I shall turn to one or two more elements of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made an intriguing speech. I believe that he relied on making the appeal that anything which delays a tough decision until it is too late to make it is a preferable position to anything that forces us into making that decision. I do not think he is served well by fantasies about the entire internal dynamics of the Labour Party. It struck me as being rather like reading some of the wilder outreaches of the internet where conspiracy theory is very much more attractive than the facts.
Unilateral disarmament was on occasion cheered on by those people I remember historically as having been Liberals. Sensible nuclear armament was advocated by those I remember as having been Social Democrats. It was a nostalgic return to the “Spitting Image” scenario of the two Davids, but only one of them is here this evening.
My Lords, absolutely. I hope that I have described the view that I take—that they are wrong.
I mention the Garwin observations very quickly because they need to be dealt with. We do not believe that proper comparisons have been made. The comparison with the Ohio class is not useful. The issues about the length of durability of these boats are not the same as the set of criteria that Garwin used. That matter can no doubt be discussed over time.
This has been a very important debate. Our standing in this matter is not that of an imperial after-shadow. Our aim is to exert from a position of security influence in the world on the objects that we all share. How often does the House ask what influence the United Kingdom can exert on international bodies? When we can exert it, that influence is based in very major part on the seriousness with which the international community regards our view of the necessity for international security across that system.
I am very grateful for the contributions to the debate. It is an important contribution to the national debate on this vital issue. I promise that the Government will reflect very carefully on the points that were raised.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 9.22 pm.