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Scotland: Trident Nuclear Deterrent

Volume 740: debated on Thursday 1 November 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the future of the Trident nuclear deterrent based in Scotland.

My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Corporal David O’Connor, 40 Commando Royal Marines; Corporal Channing Day, 3 Medical Regiment, Royal Army Medical Corps; and Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter and Lance Corporal Siddhanta Kunwar, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently. My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.

We plan that the UK’s independent, strategic nuclear deterrent will continue to be based in Scotland, at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. The Government’s policy remains as set out in the SDSR 2010; we will maintain a continuous submarine-based deterrent. Work on the assessment phase of the replacement submarine programme has been under way since May 2011. The final decision on whether to proceed with a replacement will take place in 2016, after the next election.

My Lords, I join the Minister and the whole House in offering my sincere condolences to the families and friends of Corporal David O’Connor, 40 Commando Royal Marines; Corporal Channing Day, 3 Medical Regiment, Royal Army Medical Corps; and Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter and Lance Corporal Siddhanta Kunwar, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who were killed in operations in Afghanistan recently. We owe them a great debt and will always remember them. Like the Minister, my thoughts, too, are with the wounded, and I pay tribute to their courage and fortitude in facing their rehabilitation.

The nuclear deterrent based in Scotland supports 6,000 jobs directly and 4,500 jobs indirectly, and also supports the local economy to the tune of £270 million. The Scottish National Party wants to remove it. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. The SNP states that an independent Scotland will be able to join NATO without endorsing nuclear weapons—which is complete nonsense. Will the Minister join me in condemning the reckless approach of Alex Salmond to the economic and security interests of Scotland?

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord. The UK Government believe that Scotland is stronger in defence terms as part of the United Kingdom within NATO, and do not believe that it would be in the interests of an independent Scotland not to be a member of NATO. However, there is no guarantee that membership of NATO would be automatic. No country joins NATO and pretends that it is not a nuclear alliance. The UK’s nuclear weapons are assigned to NATO, and an independent Scotland, if it were part of NATO, would continue to benefit from the nuclear umbrella that it provides. NATO’s strategic concept, as agreed and reiterated by all the allies at the 2010 Lisbon summit, is that its deterrence posture will consist of both conventional and nuclear forces.

My Lords, my noble friend’s answer seems to be at odds with the declared policy of the Scottish Administration. If that Administration were to remain in power and Scotland were to become a separate country, has my noble friend considered the implications for the defence of the rest of the United Kingdom, which will have to the north a small, separate country with no nuclear deterrent and inadequate conventional forces?

My Lords, the UK Government are not contemplating losing the argument on Scottish independence, and are not considering the issue that my noble friend raised.

My Lords, I hope the Minister will make it clear that the debate about Faslane is not simply about the thousands of jobs involved at the naval base there—which are prejudiced, of course, by the semi-neutralist policies of the Scottish National Party—but is also, is it not, about the defence of the United Kingdom? The independent nuclear deterrent—which, as he says, is an integral part of the NATO alliance—has protected us and the world from the kind of conventional war that we saw in the 20th century. It will also be a unique and irreplaceable asset for the security and safety of the United Kingdom for the next 30 uncertain, unpredictable years.

My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to add our sincere condolences from these Benches.

Can my noble friend clarify further the Government’s position on the Trident alternatives review?

My Lords, on the alternative to Trident, the coalition programme for government is clear: it reflected both parties’ commitment to a minimum credible nuclear deterrent as well as the Liberal Democrats’ desire to continue to make the case for alternatives to a like-for-like replacement for the Trident system. As such, in order to help the Liberal Democrats consider the case for alternatives, the Cabinet Office is leading a review into whether there are alternative systems and postures that could maintain a credible deterrent. That review is consulting experts from various departments—primarily from my own, the Ministry of Defence, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—and is being overseen by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that there will be no arrangements for planning a withdrawal of Trident in advance of a referendum?

My Lords, we are not contemplating losing the argument on Scottish independence and we will not pre-negotiate the loss of Scotland from the United Kingdom. We support Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom and are confident that the people of Scotland will agree. We are not making plans for Scottish independence, as I said to my noble friend earlier, and we have no plans to move the nuclear deterrent from Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. There will be no negotiations of any kind with the Scottish Government on arrangements for separation before a vote.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Coulport and Faslane are only 25 miles away from my former constituency and that there are excellent blue-collar and skilled workers there? Does he agree that those who wish to separate will have to put the case for putting 6,000 good jobs at risk? It would be a loss not only to those workers but to their families.

My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord said. He mentioned the 6,500 military and highly skilled civilian jobs at Faslane and Coulport at the moment. That figure will increase to over 8,000 by 2022, and we have plans in place to base all of the Royal Navy’s submarines on the Clyde by later in this decade.