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Scottish Independence: Faslane

Volume 752: debated on Monday 3 March 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their best estimate of the cost of moving the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent from Faslane if Scotland votes for independence.

My Lords, we are confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, we are not making any contingency plans for a yes vote. Moving the deterrent and its facilities would be an enormous exercise. Faslane is the largest employment site in Scotland, with around 6,700 military and civilian jobs, increasing to around 8,200 by 2022, with hundreds of millions of pounds of planned investments as it becomes the home to all Royal Navy submarines.

My Lords, why are the Government prepared to anticipate what the effects of Scottish independence will be on the currency but not on our national security and our defence policy, given the threat that this represents to the independent nuclear deterrent? Is not the truth of the matter that, if Alex Salmond achieves his nuclear-free Scotland, the practical consequences will mean the end of the British nuclear deterrent at a time of great economic and geopolitical uncertainty? Do the Government have a plan B?

My Lords, we do not want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. We have achieved so much together and are very proud of the contributions that Scotland makes to United Kingdom defence. The United Kingdom’s integrated approach to defence protects all parts of the UK. Our nuclear deterrent is the ultimate safeguard for our national security. We have made a clear commitment to maintain that. There is absolutely no question that the UK will unilaterally disarm.

My Lords, while he and I might disagree with regards to the outcome of the referendum and even with regards to nuclear weapons, does the Minister not realise that the attitude that he has shown on behalf of the Government could well go down as arrogance by the Government towards Scotland? Also, does he not feel that the rest of the United Kingdom are entitled to have an answer to this question, as it is a matter that is relevant to us all?

My Lords, I absolutely was not being arrogant. I began my response by saying that we do not want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. We have achieved so much together. In the Ministry of Defence we are very proud of the contribution that the Scots and Scotland have made to defence in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that if it becomes necessary to remove the independent nuclear deterrent from Faslane, we must also take into consideration the fact that we must move the other nuclear attack submarines? That must also be counted in the cost.

My Lords, my honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said in July of last year that,

“the Trident alternatives review shows that there are credible and viable alternatives to the United Kingdom’s current approach to nuclear deterrence”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/7/13; col. 1219.]

Can my noble friend, despite his earlier words, say how much could be saved if these viable alternatives had to be used if there were, sadly, a move from Scotland?

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend but I do not have any costs on the alternatives with me. I will check on them and write to my noble friend.

My Lords, it seems that it is a dereliction of duty not to be looking at alternatives on such an important issue. We all know that our ability to defend our islands, should Scotland separate, will be dramatically reduced. Whatever happens, should they separate, there will be huge costs for our defence budget. Does the Minister agree that the real special relationship with the United States is the nuclear and intelligence relationship? Even this speculation is damaging that. Does he agree that in a nuclear alliance—the NATO alliance—our withdrawing part of the NATO deterrent, effectively unilaterally, will be something that causes huge damage?

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government are not planning for Scottish independence and cannot pre-negotiate the details of independence ahead of the referendum. To start planning now for a United Kingdom without Scotland would be to start to unpick the fabric of the UK before people in Scotland have had their say and would require UK Ministers to prioritise the interests of one part of the United Kingdom over those of others. In the event of a vote to leave the UK, the referendum would mark the beginning of a lengthy and complex set of negotiations between the Scottish and UK Governments.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that there is no evidence that the majority of the Scottish electorate want to see the disintegration of the British armed services and neither do they wish to see the extra costs that would certainly go with it?

My Lords, we want to see Scotland remain a key player in the United Kingdom, to the mutual benefit of each country within it. Defence is a vital component of the United Kingdom. Can the Minister say what the size is of the UK defence footprint in Scotland?

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence spent over £20 billion with UK industry in 2011-12. It would be for the Scottish Government to explain clearly what their armed forces would look like. However, to date, they have failed to provide sufficient clarity. At some £34 billion, the UK’s annual defence budget is one of the largest in the world. As part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the full range of the UK’s defence capabilities that its budget provides.

My Lords, would it be charitable to believe that the Government, as a responsible agency, may have scenarios up their sleeve but the noble Lord is not willing to take the House into his confidence?

My Lords, is there not a major defence manufacturing activity in Scotland, much of which may well be lost if Scotland chooses to become independent?

My noble friend makes a very good point. The Ministry of Defence spent more than £20 billion with UK industry in 2011-12, with a £160 billion, 10-year equipment programme. Companies based in an independent Scotland would no longer be eligible for contracts that the UK chose to place domestically for national security reasons. Where they could continue to compete, they would be pitching for business in an international market dominated by major economic powers.

My Lords, does the Minister not understand that this is an important matter, and that there is a big difference between pre-negotiation and contingency planning?