I beg to move,
That this House supports the Government’s assessment in the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review that the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent, based on a Continuous at Sea Deterrence posture, will remain essential to the UK's security today as it has for over 60 years, and for as long as the global security situation demands, to deter the most extreme threats to the UK's national security and way of life and that of the UK's allies; supports the decision to take the necessary steps required to maintain the current posture by replacing the current Vanguard Class submarines with four Successor submarines; recognises the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base and in supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs; notes that the Government will continue to provide annual reports to Parliament on the programme; recognises that the UK remains committed to reducing its overall nuclear weapon stockpile by the mid-2020s; and supports the Government’s commitment to continue work towards a safer and more stable world, pressing for key steps towards multilateral disarmament.
The Home Secretary has just made a statement about the attack in Nice, and I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those killed and injured in last Thursday’s utterly horrifying attack in Nice—innocent victims brutally murdered by terrorists who resent the freedoms that we treasure and want nothing more than to destroy our way of life.
This latest attack in France, compounding the tragedies of the Paris attacks in January and November last year, is another grave reminder of the growing threats that Britain and all our allies face from terrorism. On Friday I spoke to President Hollande and assured him that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the French people, as we have done so often in the past. We will never be cowed by terror. Though the battle against terrorism may be long, these terrorists will be defeated, and the values of liberté, égalité and fraternité will prevail.
I should also note the serious events over the weekend in Turkey. We have firmly condemned the attempted coup by certain members of the Turkish military, which began on Friday evening. Britain stands firmly in support of Turkey’s democratically elected Government and institutions. We call for the full observance of Turkey’s constitutional order and stress the importance of the rule of law prevailing in the wake of this failed coup. Everything must be done to avoid further violence, to protect lives and to restore calm. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has worked around the clock to provide help and advice to the many thousands of British nationals on holiday or working in Turkey at this time. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to the Turkish Foreign Minister, and I expect to speak to President Erdogan shortly.
Before I turn to our nuclear deterrent, I am sure the House will welcome the news that Japan’s SoftBank Group intends to acquire UK tech firm ARM Holdings. I have spoken to SoftBank directly. It has confirmed its commitment to keep the company in Cambridge and to invest further to double the number of UK jobs over five years. This £24 billion investment would be the largest ever Asian investment in the UK. It is a clear demonstration that Britain is open for business—as attractive to international investment as ever.
There is no greater responsibility as Prime Minister than ensuring the safety and security of our people. That is why I have made it my first duty in this House to move today’s motion so that we can get on with the job of renewing an essential part of our national security for generations to come.
For almost half a century, every hour of every day, our Royal Navy nuclear submarines have been patrolling the oceans, unseen and undetected, fully armed and fully ready—our ultimate insurance against nuclear attack. Our submariners endure months away from their families, often without any contact with their loved ones, training relentlessly for a duty they hope never to carry out. I hope that, whatever our views on the deterrent, we can today agree on one thing: that our country owes an enormous debt of gratitude to all our submariners and their families for the sacrifices they make in keeping us safe. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
As a former Home Secretary, I am familiar with the threats facing our country. In my last post, I was responsible for counter-terrorism for over six years. I received daily operational intelligence briefings about the threats to our national security, I chaired a weekly security meeting with representatives of all the country’s security and intelligence agencies, military and police, and I received personal briefings from the director-general of MI5. Over those six years as Home Secretary I focused on the decisions needed to keep our people safe, and that remains my first priority as Prime Minister.
The threats that we face are serious, and it is vital for our national interest that we have the full spectrum of our defences at full strength to meet them. That is why, under my leadership, this Government will continue to meet our NATO obligation to spend 2% of our GDP on defence. We will maintain the most significant security and military capability in Europe, and we will continue to invest in all the capabilities set out in the strategic defence and security review last year. We will meet the growing terrorist threat coming from Daesh in Syria and Iraq, from Boko Haram in Nigeria, from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, from al-Shabaab in east Africa, and from other terrorist groups planning attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We will continue to invest in new capabilities to counter threats that do not recognise national borders, including by remaining a world leader in cyber-security.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are lessons. Some people suggest to us that we should actually be removing our nuclear deterrent. This has been a vital part of our national security and defence for nearly half a century now, and it would be quite wrong for us to go down that particular path.
I offer the Prime Minister many congratulations on her election. Will she be reassured that whatever she is about to hear from our Front Benchers, it remains steadfastly Labour party policy to renew the deterrent while other countries have the capacity to threaten the United Kingdom, and that many of my colleagues will do the right thing for the long-term security of our nation and vote to complete the programme that we ourselves started in government?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for the words that he has just spoken. He is absolutely right. The national interest is clear. The manifesto on which Labour Members of Parliament stood for the general election last year said that Britain must remain
“committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.”
I welcome the commitment that he and, I am sure, many of his colleagues will be giving tonight to that nuclear deterrent by joining Government Members of Parliament in voting for this motion.
I add my congratulations to the right hon. Lady on her new role. If keeping and renewing our nuclear weapons is so vital to our national security and our safety, does she accept that the logic of that position must be that every single other country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and does she really think that the world would be a safer place if it did? Our nuclear weapons are driving proliferation, not the opposite.
No, I do not accept that at all. I have to say to the hon. Lady that, sadly, she and some Labour Members seem to be the first to defend the country’s enemies and the last to accept these capabilities when we need them.
None of this means that there will be no threat from nuclear states in the coming decades. As I will set out for the House today, the threats from countries such as Russia and North Korea remain very real. As our strategic defence and security review made clear, there is a continuing risk of further proliferation of nuclear weapons. We must continually convince any potential aggressors that the benefits of an attack on Britain are far outweighed by their consequences; and we cannot afford to relax our guard or rule out further shifts that would put our country in grave danger. We need to be prepared to deter threats to our lives and our livelihoods, and those of generations who are yet to be born.
Of course, when SNP Members go through the Lobby tonight, 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs will be voting against this. What message is the Prime Minister sending to the people of Scotland, who are demonstrating, through their elected representatives, that we do not want Trident on our soil?
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way and congratulate her on her appointment. She mentioned the security threat that the country faces from terrorism. What does she say to those who say that it is a choice between renewing the Trident programme and confronting the terrorist threat?
I say that it is not a choice. This country needs to recognise that it faces a variety of threats and ensure that we have the capabilities that are necessary and appropriate to deal with each of them. As the Home Secretary has just made clear in response to questions on her statement, the Government are committed to extra funding and extra resource going to, for example, counter-terrorism policing and the security and intelligence agencies as they face the terrorist threat, but what we are talking about today is the necessity for us to have a nuclear deterrent, which has been an insurance policy for this country for nearly 50 years and I believe that it should remain so.
I would like to make a little progress before I take more interventions.
I know that there are a number of serious and very important questions at the heart of this debate, and I want to address them all this afternoon. First, in the light of the evolving nature of the threats that we face, is a nuclear deterrent really still necessary and essential? Secondly, is the cost of our deterrent too great? Thirdly, is building four submarines the right way of maintaining our deterrent? Fourthly, could we not rely on our nuclear-armed allies, such as America and France, to provide our deterrent instead? Fifthly, do we not have a moral duty to lead the world in nuclear disarmament, rather than maintaining our own deterrent? I will take each of those questions in turn.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her surefootedness in bringing this motion before the House and at last allowing Parliament to make a decision in this Session? We will proudly stand behind the Government on this issue tonight. I encourage her to tell the Scots Nats that if they do not want those jobs in Scotland, they will be happily taken in Northern Ireland?
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on becoming Prime Minister. Will she confirm that, when the Labour Government of Clement Attlee took the decision to have nuclear weapons, they had to do so in a very dangerous world, and that successive Labour Governments kept those nuclear weapons because there was a dangerous world? Is it not the case that now is also a dangerous time?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, the last Labour Government held votes in this House on the retention of the nuclear deterrent. It is a great pity that there are Members on the Labour Front Bench who fail to see the necessity of the nuclear deterrent, given that in the past the Labour party has put the British national interest first when looking at the issue.
I want to set out for the House why our nuclear deterrent remains as necessary and essential today as it was when we first established it. The nuclear threat has not gone away; if anything, it has increased.
First, there is the threat from existing nuclear states such as Russia. We know that President Putin is upgrading his nuclear forces. In the past two years, there has been a disturbing increase in both Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the frequency of snap nuclear exercises. As we have seen with the illegal annexation of Crimea, there is no doubt about President Putin’s willingness to undermine the rules-based international system in order to advance his own interests. He has already threatened to base nuclear forces in Crimea and in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic sea that neighbours Poland and Lithuania.
Secondly, there is the threat from countries that wish to acquire nuclear capabilities illegally. North Korea has stated a clear intent to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and it continues to work towards that goal, in flagrant violation of a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
I am going to make some progress. North Korea is the only country in the world to have tested nuclear weapons this century, carrying out its fourth test this year, as well as a space launch that used ballistic missile technology. It also claims to be attempting to develop a submarine-launch capability and to have withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Based on the advice I have received, we believe that North Korea could already have enough fissile material to produce more than a dozen nuclear weapons. It also has a long-range ballistic missile, which it claims can reach America, and which is potentially intended for nuclear delivery. There is, of course, the danger that North Korea might share its technology or its weapons with other countries or organisations that wish to do us harm.
Thirdly, there is the question of future nuclear threats that we cannot even anticipate today. Let me be clear why this matters. Once nuclear weapons have been given up, it is almost impossible to get them back, and the process of creating a new deterrent takes many decades. We could not redevelop a deterrent fast enough to respond to a new and unforeseen nuclear threat, so the decision on whether to renew our nuclear deterrent hinges not just on the threats we face today, but on an assessment of what the world will be like over the coming decades.
It is impossible to say for certain that no such extreme threats will emerge in the next 30 or 40 years to threaten our security and way of life, and it would be an act of gross irresponsibility to lose the ability to meet such threats by discarding the ultimate insurance against those risks in the future. With the existing fleet of Vanguard submarines beginning to leave service by the early 2030s, and with the time it takes to build and test new submarines, we need to take the decision to replace them now.
Maintaining our nuclear deterrent is not just essential for our own national security; it is vital for the future security of our NATO allies.
Last year, the then Minister for Defence Procurement, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), said that the cost of the replacement programme was
“being withheld as it relates to the formulation of Government policy and release would prejudice commercial interests.”
Given the scale of the decision that we are being asked to make, will the Prime Minister tell us the answer to that question—the through-life cost?
I am happy to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish this section of my speech, I will come on to the cost in a minute.
Britain is going to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe, and we will not leave our European and NATO allies behind. Being recognised as one of the five nuclear weapons states under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty confers on us unique responsibilities, because many of the nations that signed the treaty in the 1960s did so on the understanding that they were protected by NATO’s nuclear umbrella, including the UK deterrent. Abandoning our deterrent would undermine not only our own future security, but that of our allies. That is not something that I am prepared to do.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister, with her very busy schedule, caught the interview on Radio 5 Live this morning with the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), who stated that he was a member of CND as a teenager, but then he grew up. Is not the mature and adult view that in a world in which we have a nuclear North Korea and an expansionist Russia, we must keep our at-sea independent nuclear deterrent?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I think he is right to point out that there are Opposition Members who support that view. Sadly, not many of them seem to be on the Front Bench, but perhaps my speech will change the views of some of the Front Benchers; we will see.
I said to the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) that I would come on to the question of cost, and I want to do that now. Of course, no credible deterrent is cheap, and it is estimated that the four new submarines will cost £31 billion to build, with an additional contingency of £10 billion. With the acquisition costs spread over 35 years, this is effectively an insurance premium of 0.2% of total annual Government spending. That is 20p in every £100 for a capability that will protect our people through to the 2060s and beyond. I am very clear that our national security is worth every penny.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for taking a second intervention. I asked her a simple question the first time around. I think that she has concluded her confirmation of the through-life cost for Trident’s replacement, but she did not say what that number was. Would she be so kind as to say what the total figure is for Trident replacement, including its through-life cost?
I have given the figures for the cost of building the submarines. I am also clear that the in-service cost is about 6% of the defence budget, or about 13p in every £100 of Government spending. There is also a significant economic benefit to the renewal of our nuclear deterrent, which might be of interest to members of the Scottish National party.
The Prime Minister quite rightly paid tribute to our submariners. Will she also pay tribute to the men and women working in our defence industries who will work on Successor? They are highly skilled individuals who are well paid, but such skills cannot just be turned on and off like a tap when we need them. Does she agree that it is vital for the national interest to keep these people employed?
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. Our nuclear defence industry makes a major contribution to our defence industrial base. It supports more than 30,000 jobs across the United Kingdom, and benefits hundreds of suppliers across more than 350 constituencies. The skills required in this industry, whether in engineering or design, will keep our nation at the cutting edge for years to come. Along with the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to all those who are working in the industry and, by their contribution, helping to keep us safe.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place as Prime Minister. Does she agree with me that, like the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), I have quite a lot of people in my constituency who are working in the defence industry, the nuclear power industry and the science sector? Will it not be a kick in the teeth for my constituents if we do not agree to this deterrent today?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Some constituencies—obviously, Morecambe and Lunesdale, and Barrow and Furness—are particularly affected by this, but as I have just said, there are jobs across about 350 constituencies in this country that are related to this industry. If we were not going to renew our nuclear deterrent, those people would of course be at risk of losing their jobs as a result.
Will the Prime Minister confirm for me and the House that the vast majority of the cost involved will be invested in jobs, skills and businesses in this country over many decades? This is an investment in our own security. It is not about outsourcing, but about keeping things safe at home.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about jobs here in the United Kingdom, and it is also about the development of skills here in the United Kingdom that will be of benefit to our engineering and design base for many years to come.
The decision will also specifically increase the number of jobs in Scotland. HM Naval Base Clyde is already one of the largest employment sites in Scotland, sustaining around 6,800 military and civilian jobs, as well as having a wider impact on the local economy. As the base becomes home to all Royal Navy submarines, the number of people employed there is set to increase to 8,200 by 2022. If hon. Members vote against today’s motion, they will be voting against those jobs. That is why the Unite union has said that defending and securing the jobs of the tens of thousands of defence workers involved in the Successor submarine programme is its priority.
The hon. Gentleman might have noticed that the Government have looked at the Government procurement arrangements in relation to steel. Obviously, where British steel is good value, we would want it to be used. For the hon. Gentleman’s confirmation, I have been in Wales this morning and one of the issues I discussed with the First Minister of Wales was the future of Tata and the work that the Government have done with the Welsh Government on that.
I will now turn to the specific question of whether building four submarines is the right approach, or whether there are cheaper and more effective ways of providing a similar effect to the Trident system. I think the facts are very clear. A review of alternatives to Trident, undertaken in 2013, found that no alternative system is as capable, resilient or cost-effective as a Trident-based deterrent. Submarines are less vulnerable to attack than aircraft, ships or silos, and they can maintain a continuous, round-the-clock cover in a way that aircraft cannot, while alternative delivery systems such as cruise missiles do not have the same reach or capability. Furthermore, we do not believe that submarines will be rendered obsolete by unmanned underwater vehicles or cyber-techniques, as some have suggested. Indeed, Admiral Lord Boyce, the former First Sea Lord and submarine commander, has said that we are more likely to put a man on Mars within six months than make the seas transparent within 30 years. With submarines operating in isolation when deployed, it is hard to think of a system less susceptible to cyber-attack. Other nations think the same. That is why America, Russia, China and France all continue to spend tens of billions on their own submarine-based weapons.
Delivering Britain’s continuous at-sea deterrence means that we need all four submarines to ensure that one is always on patrol, taking account of the cycle of deployment, training, and routine and unplanned maintenance. Three submarines cannot provide resilience against unplanned refits or breaks in serviceability, and neither can they deliver the cost savings that some suggest they would, since large fixed costs for infrastructure, training and maintenance are not reduced by any attempt to cut from four submarines to three. It is therefore right to replace our current four Vanguard submarines with four Successors. I will not seek false economies with the security of the nation, and I am not prepared to settle for something that does not do the job.
I was listening carefully to the question from the leader of the Scottish National party about cost. Is it not clear that, whatever the cost, he and his party are against our nuclear deterrent? Scottish public opinion is clear that people in Scotland want the nuclear deterrent. When my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary votes to retain the nuclear deterrent tonight, he will be speaking for the people of Scotland, not the SNP.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend; he put that very well indeed.
Let me turn to the issue of whether we could simply rely on other nuclear armed allies such as America and France to provide our deterrent. The first question is how would America and France react if we suddenly announced that we were abandoning our nuclear capabilities but still expected them to put their cities at risk to protect us in a nuclear crisis. That is hardly standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies.
At last month’s NATO summit in Warsaw, our allies made it clear that by maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent alongside America and France we provide NATO with three separate centres of decision making. That complicates the calculations of potential adversaries, and prevents them from threatening the UK or our allies with impunity. Withdrawing from that arrangement would weaken us now and in future, undermine NATO, and embolden our adversaries. It might also allow potential adversaries to gamble that one day the US or France might not put itself at risk to deter an attack on the UK.
It is all very well looking at the cost of building and running the submarines, but the cost of instability in the world if there is no counterbalance reduces our ability to trade and reduces GDP. This is not just about what it costs; it is about what would happen if we did not have this system and there was more instability in the world.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her appointment. I shall be voting for the motion this evening because I believe that the historical role of the Labour party and Labour Governments has been on the right side of this issue. I love the fact that she is showing strong support for NATO, but there is a niggle: have we the capacity and resources to maintain conventional forces to the level that will match our other forces?
The answer to that is yes—we are very clear that we face different threats and need different capabilities to face them. We have now committed to 2% of GDP being spent on defence, and we have increased the defence budget and the money that we spend on more conventional forces.
Yes. The whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it, unlike the suggestion that we could have a nuclear deterrent but not actually be willing to use it, which seemed to come from the Labour Front Bench.
I am sure the Prime Minister is aware that Russia has 10 times the amount of tactical nuclear weapons as the whole of the rest of NATO. On a recent Defence Committee visit to Russia, we were told by senior military leaders that they reserved the right to use nuclear weapons as a first strike. Should that not make us very afraid if we ever thought of giving up our nuclear weapons?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I pointed out earlier, Russia is also modernising its nuclear capability. It would be a dereliction of our duty, in terms of our responsibility for the safety and security of the British people, if we were to give up our nuclear deterrent.
We must send an unequivocal message to any adversary that the cost of an attack on our United Kingdom or our allies will always be far greater than anything it might hope to gain through such an attack. Only the retention of our own independent deterrent can do this. This Government will never endanger the security of our people and we will never hide behind the protection provided by others, while claiming the mistaken virtue of unilateral disarmament.
Let me turn to the question of our moral duty to lead nuclear disarmament. Stopping nuclear weapons being used globally is not achieved by giving them up unilaterally. It is achieved by working towards a multilateral process. That process is important and Britain could not be doing more to support this vital work. Britain is committed to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in line with our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
I am going to make some more progress.
We play a leading role on disarmament verification, together with Norway and America. We will continue to press for key steps towards multilateral disarmament, including the entry into force of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and for successful negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. Furthermore, we are committed to retaining the minimum amount of destructive power needed to deter any aggressor. We have cut our nuclear stockpiles by over half since their cold war peak in the late 1970s. Last year, we delivered on our commitment to reduce the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40. We will retain no more than 120 operationally available warheads and we will further reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads by the middle of the next decade.
Britain has approximately 1% of the 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world. For us to disarm unilaterally would not significantly change the calculations of other nuclear states, nor those seeking to acquire such weapons. To disarm unilaterally would not make us safer. Nor would it make the use of nuclear weapons less likely. In fact, it would have the opposite effect, because it would remove the deterrent that for 60 years has helped to stop others using nuclear weapons against us.
Our national interest is clear. Britain’s nuclear deterrent is an insurance policy we simply cannot do without. We cannot compromise on our national security. We cannot outsource the grave responsibility we shoulder for keeping our people safe and we cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism. That would be a reckless gamble: a gamble that would enfeeble our allies and embolden our enemies; a gamble with the safety and security of families in Britain that we must never be prepared to take.
We have waited long enough. It is time to get on with building the next generation of our nuclear deterrent. It is time to take this essential decision to deter the most extreme threats to our society and preserve our way of life for generations to come. I commend this motion to the House.
May I start by welcoming the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and congratulating her on her appointment as Prime Minister? I wish her well in that position, and I am glad that her election was quick and short.
I commend the remarks the Prime Minister made about the horrific events in Nice. What happened was absolutely horrific: the innocent people who lost their lives. One hopes it will not be repeated elsewhere. I was pleased she mentioned the situation in Turkey, and I support her call for calm and restraint on all sides in Turkey. After the attempted coup, I called friends in Istanbul and Ankara and asked what was going on. The older ones felt it was like a repeat of the 1980 coup and were horrified that bombs were falling close to the Turkish Parliament. Can we please not return to a Europe of military coups and dictatorships? I endorse the Prime Minister’s comments in that respect, and I pay tribute to the Foreign Office staff who helped British citizens caught up in the recent events in France and Turkey.
The motion today is one of enormous importance to this country and indeed the wider world. There is nothing particularly new in it—the principle of nuclear weapons was debated in 2007—but this is an opportunity to scrutinise the Government. The funds involved in Trident renewal are massive. We must also consider the complex moral and strategic issues of our country possessing weapons of mass destruction. There is also the question of its utility. Do these weapons of mass destruction—for that is what they are—act as a deterrent to the threats we face, and is that deterrent credible?
The motion says nothing about the ever-ballooning costs. In 2006, the MOD estimated that construction costs would be £20 billion, but by last year that had risen by 50% to £31 billion, with another £10 billion added as a contingency fund. The very respected hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) has estimated the cost at £167 billion, though it is understood that delays might have since added to those credible figures—I have seen estimates as high as over £200 billion for the replacement and the running costs.
Is not the true cost the one we remember every Remembrance Sunday—the millions of lives we lost in two world wars? Would the right hon. Gentleman care to estimate the millions of lives that would have been lost in the third conventional war that was avoided before 1989 because of the nuclear deterrent?
We all remember, on Remembrance Sunday and at other times, those who lost their lives. That is the price of war. My question is: does our possession of nuclear weapons make us and the world more secure? [Hon. Members: “Yes!”] Of course, there is a debate about that, and that is what a democratic Parliament does—it debates the issues. I am putting forward a point of view. The hon. Gentleman might not agree with it, but I am sure he will listen with great respect, as he always does.
Towards the end of her speech, the Prime Minister mentioned the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and multilateral disarmament. I was interested in that. Surely we should start from the basis that we want, and are determined to bring about, a nuclear-free world. Six-party talks are going on with North Korea. China is a major economic provider to North Korea. I would have thought that the relationship with China and North Korea was the key to finding a way forward.
How would the right hon. Gentleman persuade my thousands of Korean constituents that it is a good idea to disarm unilaterally while their families and friends living in our ally South Korea face a constant nuclear threat from a belligerent regime over their northern border?
I, too, have Korean constituents, as do many others, and we welcome their work and participation in our society. I was making the point that the six-party talks are an important way forward in bringing about a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula, which is surely in everybody’s interests. It will not be easy—I fully understand that—but nevertheless it is something we should be trying to do.
I would be grateful if the Prime Minister, or the Defence Secretary when he replies, could let us know the Government’s estimate of the total lifetime cost of what we are being asked to endorse today.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
It is hardly surprising that in May 2009 an intense debate went on in the shadow Cabinet about going for a less expensive upgrade by converting to air-launched missiles. The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said at the time that
“the arguments have not yet been had in public in nearly an adequate enough way to warrant the spending of this nation’s treasure on the scale that will be required.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 84.]
Seven years later, we are perhaps in the same situation.
The motion proposes an open-ended commitment to maintain Britain’s current nuclear capability for as long as the global security situation demands. We on the Opposition Benches, despite our differences on some issues, have always argued for the aim of a nuclear-free world. We might differ on how to achieve it, but we are united in our commitment to that end.
In 2007, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) embarked on a meaningful attempt to build consensus for multilateral disarmament. Will the Government address where these Successor submarines are going to be based? The people of Scotland have rejected Trident’s being based in Faslane naval base on the Clyde—the SNP Government are opposed to it, as is the Scottish Labour party.
We are debating not a nuclear deterrent but our continued possession of weapons of mass destruction. We are discussing eight missiles and 40 warheads, with each warhead believed to be eight times as powerful as the atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima in 1945. We are talking about 40 warheads, each one with a capacity to kill more than 1 million people.
What, then, is the threat that we face that will be deterred by the death of more than 1 million people? It is not the threat from so-called Islamic State, with its poisonous death-cult that glories in killing as many people as possible, as we have seen brutally from Syria to east Africa and from France to Turkey. It has not deterred our allies Saudi Arabia from committing dreadful acts in Yemen. It did not stop Saddam Hussein’s atrocities in the 1980s or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It did not deter the war crimes in the Balkans in the 1990s, nor the genocide in Rwanda. I make it clear today that I would not take a decision that killed millions of innocent people. I do not believe that the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about dealing with international relations.
As Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend will be privy to briefings from the National Security Council. Will he explain when he last sought and received such a briefing and what is his assessment of the new Russian military nuclear protocols that permit first strike using nuclear weapons and that say that they can be used to de-escalate conventional military conflicts?
Britain, too, currently retains the right to first strike, so I would have thought that the best way forward would be to develop the nuclear non-proliferation treaty into a no first strike situation. That would be a good way forward. I respect my hon. Friend’s wish to live in a nuclear-free world. I know he believes that very strongly.
I think we should take our commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty very seriously. In 1968, the Labour Government led by Harold Wilson inaugurated and signed the non-proliferation treaty. In 2007, the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South rightly said that
“we must strengthen the NPT in all its aspects”
and referred to the judgment made 40 years ago
“that the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons was in all of our interests.”
The then Labour Government committed to reduce our stocks of operationally available warheads by a further 20%. I congratulate our Government on doing that. Indeed, I attended an NPT review conference when those congratulations were spoken. Can the Government say what the Labour Foreign Secretary said in 2007 when she said that her
“commitment to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons is undimmed”?
Is this Government’s vision of a nuclear-free world undimmed? My right hon. Friend also spoke as Foreign Secretary of the
“international community’s clear commitment to a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone”.
I will not give way.
Indeed, at the last two nuclear non-proliferation treaty five-yearly review conferences there was unanimous support for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone across the middle east, which surely we can sign up to and support. I look forward to the Defence Secretary’s support for that position when he responds to the debate.
I thank my hon. Friend for his view. As he well knows, the party decided that it wanted to support the retention of nuclear weapons. We also decided that we would have a policy review, which is currently being undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis).
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) is as well aware as I am of the existing policy. He is also as well aware as I am of the views on nuclear weapons that I expressed very clearly at the time of the leadership election last year, hence the fact that Labour Members will have a free vote this evening.
Other countries have made serious efforts—
I will come to my hon. Friend in a moment.
Other countries have made serious efforts to bring about nuclear disarmament within the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. South Africa abandoned all its nuclear programmes after the end of apartheid, and thus brought about a nuclear weapons-free zone throughout the continent. After negotiation, Libya ended all research on nuclear weapons. At the end of the cold war, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, although they were under the control of the former Soviet Union and, latterly, of Russia. Kazakhstan did the same, which helped to bring about a central Asia nuclear weapons-free zone, and in Latin America, Argentina and Brazil both gave up their nuclear programmes.
I commend the Government, and other Governments around the world who negotiated with Iran, seriously, with great patience and at great length. That helped to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear programme, and I think we should pay tribute to President Obama for his achievements in that regard.
The former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo said:
“To say we need nuclear weapons in this situation would imply that Germany and Italy are trembling in their boots because they don’t have a nuclear deterrent, which I think is clearly not the case.”
Is it not time for us to step up to the plate and promote—rapidly—nuclear disarmament?
Like me, my right hon. Friend stood in May 2015 on the basis of a party policy which had been agreed at our conference, through our mechanisms in the party, and which supported the renewal of our continuous at-sea deterrent. He now has a shadow Front Bench and a shadow Cabinet in his own image, who, I understand, agreed last week to present that policy from the Front Bench. Is he going to do it, or will it be done by the Member who winds up the debate?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, a multilateral process is currently taking place at the United Nations. More than 130 countries are negotiating, in good faith, for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government’s refusal even to attend, let alone take part in, that process raises serious questions about their commitment to a world without nuclear weapons?
I think it is a great shame that the Government do not attend those negotiations, and I wish they would. I thank them for attending the 2014 conference on the humanitarian effects of war, and I thank them for their participation in the non-proliferation treaty, but I think they should go and support the idea of a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons. No one in the House actually wants nuclear weapons. The debate is about how one gets rid of them, and the way in which one does it.
There are questions, too, about the operational utility of nuclear armed submarines. [Interruption.] I ask the Prime Minister again—or perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence can answer this question in his response—what assessment the Government have made of the impact of underwater drones, the surveillance of wave patterns and other advanced detection techniques that could make the submarine technology—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Can the Prime Minister confirm whether the UK will back the proposed nuclear weapons ban treaty, which I understand will be put before the UN General Assembly in September—probably before we return to the House after the summer recess? That is an important point.
We can all agree that nuclear weapons are truly the most repugnant weapons that have ever been invented by man, but the key is the word “invented”; we cannot disinvent them, but we can control them, and that is what this is all about—controlling nuclear weapons.
If this is all about controlling them, perhaps we should think for a moment about the obligations we have signed up to as a nation by signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, article VI of which says that the declared nuclear weapons states—of which we are one—must take steps towards disarmament, and others must not acquire nuclear weapons. It has not been easy, but the NPT has helped to reduce the level of nuclear weapons around the world.
I am stunned to hear the argument that has just been made from the Tory Benches that we cannot disinvent nuclear weapons. That argument could be employed for chemical and biological weapons.
My right hon. Friend is fond of telling us all that the party conference is sovereign when it comes to party policy. Last year the party conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining the nuclear deterrent, so why are we not hearing a defence of the Government’s motion?
Party policy is also to review our policies. That is why we have reviews.
We also have to look at the issues of employment and investment. We need Government intervention through a defence diversification agency, as we had under the previous Labour Government, to support industries that have become over-reliant on defence contracts and wish to move into other contracts and other work.
The Prime Minister mentioned the Unite policy conference last week, which I attended. Unite, like other unions, has members working in all sectors of high-tech manufacturing, including the defence sector. That, of course, includes the development of both the submarines and the warheads and nuclear reactors that go into them. Unite’s policy conference endorsed its previous position of opposing Trident but wanting a Government who will put in place a proper diversification agency. The union has been thinking these things through and wants to maintain the highly skilled jobs in the sector.
Our defence review is being undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) for her excellent work on the review. [Interruption.] Whatever people’s views—
Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman has signalled an intention to take an intervention, but before he does—[Interruption.] Order. I just make the point that there is a lot of noise, but at the last reckoning—[Interruption.] Order. I will tell the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) what the position is, and he will take it whether he likes it or not. Fifty-three Members wish to speak in this debate, and I want to accommodate them. I ask Members to take account of that to help each other.
Under the last Labour Government, because of our stand on supporting non-proliferation, as a nuclear deterrent country we were able to influence a large reduction in the number of nuclear warheads around the world. Does my right hon. Friend really think that if we abandoned our position as one of the countries that holds nuclear weapons, we would have as much influence without them as with them?
We did indeed help to reduce the number of nuclear warheads. Indeed, I attended a number of conferences where there were British Government representatives, and the point was made that the number of UK warheads had been reduced and other countries had been encouraged to do the same. I talked about the nuclear weapons-free zones that had been achieved around the world, which are a good thing. However, there is now a step change, because we are considering saying that we are prepared to spend a very large sum on the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to article VI of the NPT—I am sure she is aware of it —which requires us to “take steps towards disarmament”. That is what it actually says.
I am not going to give way any more, because I am up against the clock.
In case it is not obvious to the House, let me say that I will be voting against the motion tonight. I am sure that will be an enormous surprise to the whole House. I will do that because of my own views and because of the way—
I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on the accuracy of the language used by the Leader of the Opposition. We are not voting tonight on new nuclear warheads; we are voting simply on the submarines used to deploy those missiles. That is fundamentally different from new missiles.
The issue of course is the submarines, but it is also the new weapons that will have to go into those submarines as and when they have been built—if they are built.
We should pause for a moment to think about the indiscriminate nature of what nuclear weapons do and the catastrophic effects of their use anywhere. As I said, I have attended NPT conferences and preparatory conferences at various times over many years, with representatives of all parties in the House. I was very pleased when the coalition Government finally, if slightly reluctantly, accepted the invitation to take part in the humanitarian effects of war conference in Vienna in 2014. Anyone who attended that conference and heard from British nuclear test veterans, Pacific islanders or civilians in Russia or the United States who have suffered the effects of nuclear explosions cannot be totally dispassionate about the effects of the use of nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapon is an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction.
Many colleagues throughout the House will vote for weapons tonight because they believe they serve a useful military purpose. But to those who believe in multilateral disarmament, I ask this: is this not an unwise motion from the Government, giving no answers on costs and no answers on disarmament? For those of us who believe in aiming for a nuclear-free world, and for those who are deeply concerned about the spiralling costs, this motion has huge questions to answer, and they have failed to be addressed in this debate. If we want a nuclear weapons-free world, this is an opportunity to start down that road and try to bring others with us, as has been achieved to some extent over the past few decades. Surely we should make that effort rather than go down the road the Government are suggesting for us this evening.
Order. In accordance with usual practice, no time limit on Back-Bench speeches will apply until after all the Front-Bench opening speeches have been made. That said, sensitivity to the very large demand is of the essence, and extreme self-discipline is required.
I have often had the pleasure of debating this topic with the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), both in and outside the House, but never in either of our wildest dreams or nightmares did we imagine that one day he would end up as leader of the Labour party. It only goes to show the unpredictability of political developments.
After the Falklands war, opponents of our strategic deterrent often pointed out that our Polaris submarines had done nothing to deter Argentina from invading the islands. However, there never was and never will be any prospect of a democratic Britain threatening to launch our nuclear missiles except in response to the use of mass destruction weapons against us. But just because we would baulk at threatening to launch nuclear weapons except when our very existence was at stake, that does not mean that dictators share our scruples, our values or our sense of self-restraint.
An example from history will do. Following the horror of the poison gas attacks in the first world war, it was widely expected that any future major conflict would involve large-scale aerial bombardments drenching cities and peoples with lethal gases. Why did Hitler not do that? Because Churchill had warned him that British stocks of chemical weapons greatly exceeded his own, and that our retaliation would dwarf anything that Nazi Germany could inflict. Poison gases are not mass destruction weapons, but nerve gases are, and Hitler seriously considered using them against the allies in 1943. He did not do so because his principal scientist, Otto Ambros, advised him that the allies had almost certainly invented them too. In fact, we had done no such thing and were horrified to discover the Nazi stocks of Tabun nerve gas at the end of the war. That was a classic example of a dictator being deterred from using a mass destruction weapon by the mistaken belief that we could retaliate in kind when actually we could not. Such examples show in concrete terms why the concept of deterrence is so important in constraining the military options available to dictators and aggressors.
I shall briefly list the five main military arguments in favour of continuing the specific British policy—pursued by successive Labour and Conservative Governments—of maintaining, at all times, a British minimum strategic nuclear retaliatory capacity.
The first military argument is that future military threats and conflicts will be no more predictable than those that engulfed us throughout the 20th century. That is the overriding justification for preserving the armed forces in peacetime as a national insurance policy. No one knows which enemies might confront us between the years 2030 and 2060—the anticipated lifespan of the Trident successor system—but it is highly probable that at least some of those enemies will be armed with mass destruction weapons.
No, I am sorry. I normally like to take interventions, but I will not, because of the time pressure.
The second argument is that it is not the weapons themselves that we have to fear but the nature of the regimes that possess them. Whereas democracies are generally reluctant to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear dictatorships—although they did against Japan in 1945—the reverse is not the case. Let us imagine a non-nuclear Britain in 1982 facing an Argentina in possession of a few tactical nuclear bombs and the means of delivering them. Retaking the islands by conventional means would have been out of the question.
The third argument is that the United Kingdom has traditionally played a more important and decisive role in preserving freedom than other medium-sized states have been able or willing to do. Democratic countries without nuclear weapons have little choice but to declare themselves neutral and hope for the best, or to rely on the nuclear umbrella of powerful allies. The United Kingdom is a nuclear power already, and it is also much harder to defeat by conventional means because of our physical separation from the continent.
The fourth argument is that our prominence as the principal ally of the United States, our strategic geographical position and the fact that we are obviously the junior partner might tempt an aggressor to risk attacking us separately. Given the difficulty of overrunning the United Kingdom with conventional forces, in contrast to our more vulnerable allies, an aggressor could be tempted to use one or more mass destruction weapons against us on the assumption that the United States would not reply on our behalf. Even if that assumption were false, the attacker would find out his terrible mistake when and only when it was too late for all concerned. An independently controlled British nuclear deterrent massively reduces the prospect of such a fatal miscalculation.
The fifth and final military argument is that no quantity of conventional forces can compensate for the military disadvantage that faces a non-nuclear country in a war against a nuclear-armed enemy. The atomic bombing of Japan is especially instructive not only because the Emperor was forced to surrender, but because of the reverse scenario: if Japan had developed atomic bombs and the allies had not, an invasion of Japan to end the war would have been out of the question. The reason why nuclear weapons deter more reliably than conventional ones, despite the huge destructiveness of conventional warfare, is that nuclear destruction is not only unbearable, but unavoidable once the missiles have been launched. The certainty and scale of the potential retaliation mean that no nuclear aggressor can gamble on success and on escaping unacceptable punishment.
Opponents of our Trident deterrent say that it can never be used. The two thirds of the British people who have endorsed our keeping nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them, and continue to endorse that in poll after poll—as well as in two general elections in the 1980s—are better informed. They understand that Trident is in use every day of the week. Its use lies in its ability to deter other states from credibly threatening us with weapons of mass destruction. Of course, the British nuclear deterrent is not a panacea and is not designed to forestall every kind of threat, such as those from stateless terrorist groups, but the threat that it is designed to counter is so overwhelming that no other form of military capability could manage to avert it.
If the consequence of possessing a lethal weapon is that nobody launches it, while the consequence of not possessing it is that someone who does launches it against us, which is the more moral thing to do—to possess the weapon and avoid anyone being attacked, or to renounce it and lay yourself and your country open to obliteration? If possessing a nuclear system and threatening to launch it in retaliation will avert a conflict in which millions would otherwise die, can it seriously be claimed that the more ethical policy is to renounce the weapon and let the millions meet their fate? Even if one argues that the threat to retaliate is itself immoral, is it as immoral as the failure to forestall so many preventable deaths?
Moral choices are, more often than not, choices to determine the lesser of two evils. The possession of the nuclear deterrent may be unpleasant, but it is an unpleasant necessity, the purpose of which lies not in its ever being fired but in its nature as the ultimate insurance policy against unpredictable, future, existential threats. It is the ultimate stalemate weapon, and in the nuclear age stalemate is the most reliable source of security available to us all.
May I begin by joining the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in their comments about the unhappy developments in both France and Turkey? I also understand that the Prime Minister needs to leave the debate shortly to attend to some important matters, so I will give her a wink when I finish the consensual stuff, which I want to start with—genuinely—because this is the first opportunity that I have had in the House to wish her well as Prime Minister. I also wish her husband, Philip, well. I do not know him, but we all know how important the support that we get at home is. It will be a test for both of them. We will not agree on many things, but where we do, we will, and where we do not, we will remain the effective Opposition in the House of Commons.
From my experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee I also know a little bit about the national security responsibilities that the Home Secretary has to enact, and the challenges get even bigger when one becomes Prime Minister. I wish her strength and wisdom in dealing with matters that are potentially life and death questions. Those are matters for the Home Secretary and for the Prime Minister and we wish her well.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister has led in this debate. That was not the plan of the Government. Perhaps in the new style of the new Government she thought that, on this important issue, she should lead, and we very much welcome that, because this is a huge matter. It will probably be the biggest spending decision by this Government. Given that—and I will come back to this—I find it utterly remarkable that, a number of hours into this debate, we still have no idea whatsoever of what the through-life costs of Trident replacement are. We can have different views on whether Trident is a good thing or a bad thing and on whether it is necessary, but I have asked the Prime Minister twice about that number. She has the opportunity to intervene on me now and give us that number. She is not going to intervene, because she would prefer not to say it. It is for her to explain. No doubt, her special advisers will be asked by the fourth estate why it is that the Government are asking us to vote for something, but cannot tell us how much it will cost. It is remarkable that in this, the biggest—
I will help the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues: there are no circumstances in which we would spend any money on nuclear weapons. This is a motion before the House, which has been proposed by the Government, and which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. and right hon. Friends are being asked to support in the Lobby. The last time I looked, I thought that Conservative MPs took pride in fiscal rectitude and in making good decisions with taxpayers’ money. It is remarkable that not a single one of them has insisted that those on their Front Bench tell us this evening what the biggest spending decision of this Parliament is going to cost. I ask again: will anybody on the Treasury Bench enlighten the House? Anybody? Again, answer came there none.
Incidentally, I have not yet ended with the consensual stuff. I am sorry, but I got a little ahead of myself—my apologies. I want to make the point about something that has not been brought up thus far. Perhaps it is the reason why the Prime Minister is here today—it would not surprise me. One of the first things that a Prime Minister needs to do on taking office is to write four letters. I am not asking what the Prime Minister has written or is writing in those letters. She writes a letter to the four submarine commanders, and we pay tribute to those who serve in our name. The husband of one of our number on the Scottish National party Benches served as a submariner on a Trident submarine. He was one of the last people to fire one of those missiles in testing. Incidentally, I should say that he is now an SNP councillor, and is opposed to the renewal of Trident.
I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning my husband, who did fire the Trident missile. Not only is he an SNP councillor, but he is in Parliament today and is a member of Scottish CND. I have made this point before. We support the personnel working on these submarines absolutely 100%, but not all of those personnel support the weapon they have been asked to deliver.
My hon. Friend makes her point very well.
Still remaining on the consensual side of this important debate, I want to stress that SNP Members do not confuse those who are in favour of renewing Trident with the thought that they would actually want to kill millions of people. However, as the Prime Minister has confirmed from the Dispatch Box today, the theory of nuclear deterrence is based on the credible potential use of weapons of mass destruction. Those who vote for its renewal need to square the theory with the practice of what that actually means.
Having said all of that, given the boldness of the Prime Minister’s recent personnel decisions, she has clearly been thinking about new ways of taking things forward. In that respect, it is hugely disappointing that she clearly has not taken any time to consider—perhaps to reconsider—the wisdom of spending an absolute fortune on something that can never be used and is not deterring the threats that we face today. I say again that we have not yet had any confirmation of what the Government plan to spend on this; they expect Members on both the Labour Benches and the Government Benches to sign a blank cheque for it.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister has clearly not given any new or detailed consideration to embracing the non-replacement of Trident, which would offer serious strategic and economic benefits, as outlined in the June 2013 report, “The Real Alternative”. Those who have not read the report should do so.
In the previous debate that took place in this House on 20 January 2015—a debate called by the SNP on Trident replacement, with support from Plaid Cymru and the Green party, and I think I am right in saying that it was co-sponsored by the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—we outlined the advantages, including
“improved national security—through budgetary flexibility in the Ministry of Defence and a more effective response to emerging security challenges in the 21st century”
as well as
“improved global security—through a strengthening of the non-proliferation regime, deterring of nuclear proliferation and de-escalation of international tensions”.
There are also potential
“vast economic savings—of more than £100 billion over the lifetime of a successor nuclear weapons system, releasing resources for effective security spending, as well as a range of public spending priorities”.—[Official Report, 20 January 2015; Vol. 591, c. 92.]
This seems to be pretty important, given that, when the Ministry of Defence was asked about it in a written question in February 2015, the then Defence Minister, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who is not in his place but was here earlier—I gave him notice that I would be raising this matter—replied that the estimated annual spending on the Trident replacement programme beyond maingate in 2016 was
“being withheld as it relates to the formulation of Government policy and release would prejudice commercial interests.”
Here today we are part and parcel of formulating Government policy, and we are expected to sign a blank cheque. We have absolutely no idea what the final cost will be. The hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has made a calculation—perhaps he will speak about it, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. He worked out that the in-service costs of a missile extension—the total cost of the Trident replacement programme—would be £167 billion.
Let me dispose of this part of my speech. The updated figure is now £179 billion —these are the Government’s own figures—based on capital costs of £31 billion, with a £10 billion contingency, and the Government’s assumption of about 6% of the defence budget as running costs, assuming a 32-year in-service life. That comes to a total of £179 billion.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. That is a very helpful intervention. I am not sure whether those numbers take account of the currency fluctuations that have had an impact on sterling—they do not. I see the hon. Gentleman shaking his head, so we should assume that the total cost is even higher than £179 billion. A calculation was made in May this year which suggested that it would be £205 billion. That is a massive sum. The Defence Secretary is shaking his head, but would he like to intervene on me now and tell us the number?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in response to a freedom of information request on the full-life costs, the MOD said:
“The government needs a safe space away from the public gaze to allow it to consider policy options . . . unfettered from public comment about the affordability”?
I suppose we should ask ourselves whether that “safe space” is the House of Commons. We are none the wiser. We have asked again and again and again. I am looking at the Defence Secretary again and he has the opportunity to intervene on me now to tell Parliament how much money his Government wish to invest in the Successor programme. Update, there came none.
It is not just about the cost; for us in Scotland, it is also about democracy. The people of Scotland have shown repeatedly, clearly and consistently that we are opposed to the renewal of nuclear weapons. When the SNP went to the country—the electorate—on an explicitly anti-Trident manifesto commitment, we won elections in 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2016. I am delighted to be joined on the Front Bench by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara), who represents Faslane and Coulport because the electorate of Argyll and Bute preferred an SNP parliamentarian, elected on a non-Trident platform, to a Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat MP.
However, this is much, much more than an issue of party political difference, because in Scottish public and civic life, from the Scottish Trades Union Congress, to Scotland’s Churches—the Church of Scotland and the Bishops’ Conference, which issued a statement this week—to the Scottish Parliament, which has voted on the subject, all have voted or called for opposition to Trident renewal. There is cross-party support from not just the SNP, but the Greens and Scottish Labour. Almost every single one of Scotland’s MPs will vote tonight against Trident’s replacement.
It is an indictment of the new Administration that the first motion in Parliament is on renewing Trident when there are so many other pressing issues facing the country in the context of Brexit. It is obscene that the priority of this Government, and, sadly, too many people on the Labour Benches, at a time of Tory austerity and economic uncertainty following the EU referendum, is to spend billions of pounds on outdated nuclear weapons that we do not want, do not need and could never use. With debt, deficit and borrowing levels forecast to get worse after Brexit, and with more than £40 billion to be cut from public services by 2020, spending £167 billion, £179 billion, or £205 billion—whatever the number is that the Government are not prepared tell us—is an outrage. The Prime Minister’s first vote is on Trident. In the current climate, that is totally wrong. It is the wrong approach to key priorities. We should be working to stabilise the economy and sorting out the chaos caused by the Brexit result.
The Prime Minister has already undermined the words of her first speech, which many people, across all parties, found important. She vowed to fight “burning injustice”, and we agree, but Trident fights no injustices. Trident is an immoral, obscene and redundant weapons system.
The vote on Trident is one of the most important this Parliament will ever take, and the Government have an obligation to inform the public about such a massive decision—they have failed to do that. The Labour Opposition is facing three ways at the same time and letting the Government get away with this. We in the SNP are absolutely clear in our opposition to Trident. We would not commit to spending hundreds of billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction, particularly at a time when this Government are making significant cuts to public services—it would be morally and economically indefensible.
I am summing up.
Today, almost every single Scottish MP will vote against renewing Trident nuclear missiles. Only a few short weeks ago, Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. If Scotland is a nation—and Scotland is a nation—it is not a normal situation for the state to totally disregard the wishes of the people. The Government have a democratic deficit in Scotland and, with today’s vote on Trident, it is going to get worse, not better. It will be for the Scottish people to determine whether we are properly protected in Europe and better represented by a Government that we actually elect. At this rate, that day is fast approaching.
Because I suspect that I may be the only person on the Conservative Benches to make the arguments that I am going to make, I have taken some care with them. Given the time limit, I will not be able to deploy my full arguments here, but I will publish them on my website, because I know that many people will be following this debate. I agree with the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) that it is an extremely important debate.
It is because I care about the security of my country that I will not be joining my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Lobby tonight. Because we have capped defence expenditure at 2% of GDP, the cost of this programme comes at the expense of the rest of the defence programme. Therefore, we need to make a more rational judgment about the balance of expenditure in order to meet the risks that our country faces. This is a colossal investment in a weapons system that will become increasingly vulnerable and at which we will have to throw good money—tens of billions of pounds more than already estimated—in order to try to keep it safe in the years to come.
My right hon. Friend is technically right, but it would be a triumph of hope over expectation that we are going to see more than 2% spent on defence any time soon. When that happens, and if this is taken in isolation, to be spent outside the defence budget, then I will accept that my arguments need to be re-evaluated, but as things are set now, the budget for this weapons system comes at the cost of the rest of our defence budget.
Britain’s independent possession of nuclear weapons has turned into a political touchstone for commitment to national defence, but this is an illusion. The truth is that this is a political weapon aimed, rather effectively, at the Labour party. Its justification rests on the defence economics, the politics, and the strategic situation of over three decades ago, but it is of less relevance to the United Kingdom today, and certainly surplus to the needs of NATO. It does not pass any rational cost-effectiveness test. Surely the failures in conventional terms, with the ignominious retreats from Basra and Helmand in the past decade, tell us that something is badly out of balance in our strategic posture.
Let us not forget the risks that this weapons system presents to the United Kingdom. Basing it in Scotland reinforces the nationalist narrative, and ironically, for a system justified on the basis that it protects the United Kingdom, it could prove instrumental in the Union’s undoing.
We were told last November that the capital cost for the replacement of the four Vanguard submarines would be £31 billion, with a contingency fund of £10 billion. We have been told that the running costs of the Successor programme will be 6% of the defence budget. Following the comments of the right hon. Member for Moray, my latest calculation is £179 billion for the whole programme.
Yes, it is extremely straightforward. It is 6% of 2% of GDP on the basis of the Government’s proposed in-service dates of the system. The defence budget is 2% of GDP, and this is 6% of that share. That presents us with the number. It is not surprising that the number should be 6% of GDP, which is double the share of the defence budget in the 1980s, because the share of GDP spent on defence has halved since the 1980s.
The costs of this project are enormous. I have asked privately a number of my hon. Friends at what point they believe that those costs become prohibitive. I cannot get an answer, short of, “Whatever it takes,” but I do not believe that an answer of infinity is rational. It is not only damaging to our economic security; it also comes at a deeply injurious opportunity cost to conventional defence. At what point do either of those prices cease to be worth paying?
The costs are likely to rise much further. The standard programme risks, which are already apparent with the Astute programme, and the currency risk pale when compared with the technical risk of this project. There is a growing body of evidence that emerging technologies will render the seas increasingly transparent in the foreseeable future. Under development are distributed censors detecting acoustic, magnetic, neutrino and electromagnetic signatures, on board unmanned vehicles in communication with each other, using swarming algorithms and autonomous operations associated with artificial intelligence, able to patrol indefinitely and using the extraordinary processing capabilities now available and improving by the month. The geometric improvement in processing power means that that technology in today’s smartphone is far superior to that of the latest American fighter aircraft. Furthermore, unmanned aircraft will detect the surface weight of deeply submerged submarines communicating with those underwater receiving active sonar. Marine biologists are already able to track shoals of fish in real time from several hundred miles away.
Ballistic submarines depend utterly on their stealth by utilising the sheer size of the oceans, but if we are today able to detect the gravitational waves first created by big bang, how can we be so confident that a capable adversary would not be able to track our submarines 20 to 40 years from now? The system vulnerabilities are not restricted to its increasingly detectable signatures. What about the security of the Trident system against cyber-attack?
Part of the Government’s case is that all the other P5 states are also investing in submarine technology for their nuclear weapon systems. It would not be the first time that states have followed each other down a dreadnought blind alley, but the UK is the only nuclear-armed state to depend entirely on a submarine. If NATO’s technical head of anti-submarine warfare can foresee the end of the era of the submarine, our P5 colleagues will at least have their bets laid off. We won’t.
It is a pleasure to follow that imaginative speech by the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt). I only wish he had brought in his fag packet so that we could have better understood the figures he tried to explain, but to no avail.
I am proud, unlike the people who are acting for our Front Bench today, to speak for the Labour party in this debate. It is the party of Attlee and Bevin, Nye Bevan and Stafford Crips—the men who witnessed the terrible birth of nuclear destruction and understood, with heavy hearts, that they should protect the world by building the capacity to deter others from unleashing it again.
I thank my friend for giving way. A nuclear deterrent also protects our soldiers in the field. Many of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), were soldiers in Germany. We took great comfort from the fact that we had nuclear weapons, because the other side—the Warsaw pact—could well have blasted us to hell, but they were put off, we hope very much, by the fact that we possessed nuclear weapons. Protection of our soldiers matters and is good for morale.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Those who wish to eradicate nuclear weapons from the United Kingdom cannot explain what would happen if, for example, Russia invaded a NATO state and there was no nuclear protection from our side and we were open to nuclear blackmail on a dreadful scale.
I am pleased to stand alongside members of Unite and GMB who have come down here to remind us of just how effective the workforce is and how important they are to so many parts of the United Kingdom. I am also proud that I will be in the same Lobby as the former Labour Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), who committed the United Kingdom—the first time any nuclear-capable nation had done so—to a global zero: a world free from nuclear weapons. But—the Leader of the Opposition did not seem to want to mention this—she knew that unilaterally disarming while others keep the bomb is not an act of global leadership. That would not show others the way; it would be destabilising and a futile abdication of responsibility.
I also speak for the Labour Members and trade unionists who engaged in our policy making in good faith. Those people are now being ignored by the party leader, who clings to an idea of Labour party democracy to save his own skin, and that is not right. The party leader’s Trident review has never quite materialised, so let me mention the report of the Back-Bench Labour defence committee, which I chair. After hearing from 23 expert witnesses in 10 sessions, which many MPs attended—although not the shadow Foreign Secretary, anyone from the office of the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow International Development Secretary, who seems to want to take part in the debate via Twitter but who does not, apparently, want to stand up for herself—we found that there had been no substantive change in the circumstances that led the Labour party firmly to support renewing the Vanguard class submarines that carry the deterrent.
For the official Opposition to have a free vote on a matter of such strategic national importance is a terrible indictment of how far this once great party has fallen. There has long been a principled tradition of unilateralism in the Labour party. I was born into it, as the son of a Labour party member who protested at Greenham common. But what Labour’s current Front Benchers are doing is not principled. It shows contempt for the public and for party members. In what they say, Labour’s Front Benchers often show contempt for the truth. The situation would have been abhorrent even to Labour’s last great unilateralist, Michael Foot—a man who, for all his shortcomings as a leader, would never have allowed our party to stand directionless in the face of such an important question.
We do not know what is going to happen to the Labour party; this is an uncertain time. Whatever happens, I am proud to stand here today and speak for Barrow. I am proud to speak for the town that is steeped in the great British tradition of shipbuilding, and to speak for the men and women who give great service to their country with the incredible work that they do. So I will walk through the Aye Lobby tonight to vote in favour of a project that the last Labour Government began, in a vote that Labour itself promised when we sat on the Government Benches.
Failing to endorse a submarine programme that will support up to 30,000 jobs across the UK would not only do great damage to our manufacturing base; it would be a clear act of unilateral disarmament. It would tell the public that we are prepared to give more credence to improbable theories and wild logic than to the solid weight of evidence that points to renewing Trident. It is our enduring duty to do what we can to protect the nation for decades ahead, so I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting established Labour policy in the Aye Lobby tonight.
That was one of the most courageous speeches I have heard during my time in the House.
I am very sad that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) is not here. When we last debated the matter in 2007, he was in his place and I was sitting on the Opposition Benches. He swept his arm to his right and said that we in the home counties could not understand what it was like to have such a powerful weapon on our doorsteps. I pointed out to him that if he came into my bedroom and looked across the Kennet valley, he would see the rooftops of the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston; if he looked slightly to his left, he would see the rooftops of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Burghfield; and if he climbed on to my roof, he could probably see the missile silos at Greenham common. In my part of Berkshire, we need no lessons from anyone about the impact or the effect of living close to the nuclear deterrent. He replied as consummately as clever politicians do, that that was the first and last time he would ever be asked into a Tory MP’s bedroom.
The point is that the nuclear deterrent is my constituency’s largest employer, and it brings many advantages, not least to the supply chain of 275 local companies and 1,500 supply chain organisations nationally. Add to that its role in advising the Government on counter-terrorism; the effect it has on nuclear threat reduction, on forensics—not least in the recent Litvinenko inquiry—and on non-proliferation; its second-to-none apprenticeship scheme; and its academic collaboration with the Orion laser. None of that would matter one jot if the decision we were taking today was wrong. The decision we are taking today is right.
I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman has said about the situating of nuclear materials and weapons in his constituency. Does he agree that there is one big difference between his constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara)? The hon. Gentleman’s constituents—witness his election—want nuclear weapons. The constituents of my hon. Friend, and those of all my hon. Friends, do not want nuclear weapons.
There are many polls that conflict with the information that the hon. and learned Lady provides. I was elected on a resounding majority, but who knows how much of that decision was about nuclear weapons being based locally? I think it was about a wide variety of issues.
The truth is that the nuclear deterrent has saved lives—this is a point that has not been made enough tonight—over the past few decades, because aggressors have been deterred. We have to ask ourselves how predictable future conflicts are. The leader of the SNP said that we are talking about deterrence today. We are not; we are talking about deterrence for 20 years, 30 years or 40 years. The SNP may have a crystal ball, and SNP Members may be able to say that there will be no threats to us in that time. I do not have a crystal ball, however, and I want to ensure the protection of future generations in this country.
That was a totally ridiculous intervention, which is not worthy of a reply. The hon. Gentleman might like to consider what kind of aggressor we might face in the future. We are not just talking about a resurgent Russia. What about groups of nations or individual nations? We know that nuclear weapons have proliferated in recent years. As we have reduced our arsenal, others have increased theirs. He needs to think not just about today, and not just about himself and his constituents, but about the future generations whom we are talking about protecting.
No, I will not take any more interventions.
We have to think through the recent conflicts in our lifetime: not conflicts in which nuclear retaliation would ever have been appropriate, but the Yom Kippur war, the Falklands—mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—the invasion of Kuwait, 9/11 and even last week’s coup in Turkey. We did not know that they were going to happen. Who can say that we would be any the wiser in the event of a coup de main operation that might not have happened if the potential enemy had been deterred by our possession of weapons that made them sit up and think? We need potential enemies to hold in their mind the fact that there is no advantage to them in aggression.
I have spoken tonight about our constituents and about future generations, but let us also talk about the concept of using nuclear weapons. There is a good, honest and decent concept, which goes back many generations and which I can respect, of disarmament and pacifism in this country. I happen to think that in this context it is wrong, but we can respect it. When people talk about using nuclear weapons, they need to understand the doctrine that governs them. Our nuclear deterrent has been used every single day of every single year for which it has been deployed. It does what it says on the tin; it deters.
I am sorry to say it, but no one believes that an independent Scotland would suddenly start to invest in Type 26 destroyers, fast jets and all the other paraphernalia of a nation that somehow wants to engage in the world in the way that Britain does. SNP Members’ sudden attraction to the idea of massive defence spending is complete nonsense.
No, I will not give way.
The nature of regimes in a more dangerous world is what we need to consider today. Although we have reduced our arsenal of nuclear weapons by 50% in recent years—the Leader of the Opposition completely ignored the fact that we have reduced our arsenal so considerably—the number of states with nuclear weapons has increased and the number of tactical nuclear weapons in the world is now over 17,000.
On the question of cost, I would just state that all this—the £31 billion over 35 years, plus the contingency—translates to about 0.2% of total Government spending. That will be reduced if we take account of the advantage for the supply chain of developing this suite of replacement submarines.
I will finish by saying that we need to listen to our allies on this issue. We have an agreement with the French—the Lancaster House agreement—and we have a long-standing agreement with the United States. Our nuclear defence is networked into our other allies as well. We need to think about their response to what we are debating as much as about the future generations that we will protect through our decision tonight.
Until three weeks ago, I anticipated that I would speak in this debate as Labour’s shadow armed forces Minister, but today I do so from the Back Benches. Either way, however, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) for the work he did to ensure Labour’s approach to this debate was evidence based. In his capacity as chair of the PLP defence committee, he conducted an exhaustive series of seminars on the Vanguard renewal, with a wide body of contributors. We heard from the general secretary of CND, the Minister for Defence Procurement, two former Labour Secretaries of State for Defence, trade unions, firms responsible for the thousands of jobs that today hang in the balance, and academics and historians who placed the decision we face today in an appropriate global strategic and historical context.
I, too, have a historical context here. Back in the 1980s, my mother was a Greenham Common protester.
That is something else we have in common. I believe that both my parents were members of CND. I do not think I ever had the badge, but as a 13-year-old I certainly made some of the arguments we heard from our Front Bench a few moments ago. As with much of the discourse in the Labour party now, we are having a retro debate that we thought had been settled three decades ago. We have previously fought general elections on a unilateralist platform. Some people surrounding the Labour party leader may think that winning elections is just the small bit that matters to political elites, but to most of us—and indeed to my constituents—it is pretty fundamental to delivering the change our society needs.
My instinct was that the policy on which we fought the previous election was the correct one, but I none the less approached the review with an open mind. I heard all the tried-and-tested arguments in opposition to Trident, but I have to say that the weight of evidence in support of the decision the Government are taking today was overwhelming.
I was told many things. I was told that once I got to meet senior military figures, I would learn that none of them really wanted this and all wanted the money to go elsewhere. That simply was not true. From a range of experienced and expert opinion, I heard time and again that our armed forces recognise the strategic importance of sending a powerful message to our adversaries, of the geopolitical role that a credible nuclear deterrent plays and of its importance to our relationship with our NATO allies.
In the past nine months, I have visited NATO with two previous shadow Secretaries of State for Defence. We met representatives from Estonia, Latvia, Poland and several other NATO allies. For those countries, the Russian threat is not a dinner table conversation, but a matter of chilling daily reality. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) was told how desperate they were for Britain to retain the nuclear deterrent and send a powerful signal to President Putin.
We were also told that it was too soon to make a decision, but Lord West made it clear to the PLP defence committee that, because of the existing extension to the lifetime of the Vanguard class of submarines, further delays to the programme would mean that we could no longer maintain a permanent and continuous posture.
As the case for not having Trident has fallen apart, the alternative options we have heard proposed have become ever more absurd. First, we had “Build the submarines, but don’t equip them with nuclear capability”, which would involve all the spending, but none of the strategic benefit. Secondly, we were told we could re-perform the exhaustive Trident alternatives review and have another five years of indecision to match the period provided by the coalition Government.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) told us that all his constituents do not want this. However, only 44% of his constituents voted for a party that wants to get rid of Trident, while 56% voted for parties committed to the retention of Trident, so that does not stand up to scrutiny in the way he suggests.
The most depressing exchange was with representatives of the GMB union in Barrow, when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury suggested that they might like to make wind turbines instead. They politely but firmly informed her that they were involved in designing and producing one of the most complex pieces of technology on the face of the earth, and that wind turbines had already been invented.
The House is being asked today to take a difficult and a costly decision.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his speech. He will have heard, as I have done, the case that many people have put to Labour MPs—that they do not back unilateralism, but would prefer an alternative nuclear weapons platform. What consideration did he give to those points when he represented us on the Front Bench?
That is a very important point. In fact, the Government tried to come to precisely that conclusion on behalf of the Liberal Democrat allies in the previous Government. The truth of the matter is that having a ballistic missile system based on submarines is crucial to ensuring that it is undetectable by our adversaries and that it provides a genuine and creditable deterrent in relation to our adversaries’ missile defence systems.
Labour Members should have confidence that the world-class technology produced by the very best of British manufacturing, which benefits suppliers in almost every constituency in the land—including, I am proud to say, at Cathelco in Chesterfield—is delivering the minimum credible continuous deterrent that we can deliver. It will aid global security and be viewed with great gratitude not just by the workers whose livelihoods depend on it, but by partners who are nervously watching our adversaries’ every move. Labour Members should know that they are voting in accordance with the policy they were elected on and in support of working trade union members and our heroic armed forces personnel; that they are contributing towards global security; that backing Vanguard is in keeping with our internationalist principles; and that it is the right thing to do.
I rise to support the motion, and I do so joylessly and with a heavy heart. Nobody can stand in a missile compartment of a ballistic submarine without a sense of terrible awe; our warheads have the capacity to destroy 40 million people. I know that everyone in the Chamber feels that responsibility extremely acutely, and that certainly goes for my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and their predecessors.
I spent much of my 20-year naval career at the tail end of the cold war. The cold war is over, however, and one can say it was won. The cold war did not become a real war, in part because of the terrible weapons that we are discussing this afternoon. We must not be preparing to fight the last war. Right hon. and hon. Members throughout the House are right to say that tomorrow’s wars are likely to be asymmetric wars, hybrid wars, wars involving terrorism, or conflicts involving climate change that, as we sit here, we really cannot fully understand. However, simply because those threats exist, that does not mean that nuclear blackmail does not and will not exist.
I fully accept that there are shades of grey in this debate. I absolutely reject the absolutist positions taken by some commentators, and I fully understand and respect arguments in relation to opportunity costs, but we have to make a decision now. We have been here several times before. In 2006, under the Labour party, we conducted what was appropriately called a deep dive. In 2013, very largely thanks to the Liberal Democrats—it pains me to say so, but it is nevertheless true—we undertook an alternatives review and dealt with many of the issues involved. I have no doubt that we will discuss this afternoon the alternatives considered at that time.
In the time available, I would like to speak briefly about the two propositions of redundancy and reputation. Those are respectable arguments that deserve to be dealt with properly.
Before my hon. Friend speaks about those two crucial points, does he agree that the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) was a most powerful argument, based on core beliefs that he has clearly thought about deeply and for a long time? It should be compelling for those of our constituents who are not clear about the party lines on this issue.
My hon. Friend is right, and the speech by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) was also extremely powerful.
The redundancy proposition holds that advancing technology will make the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent redundant. It is supposed—despite all evidence to the contrary—that unmanned underwater vessels will appear and render our oceans transparent, but that is pure supposition. We cannot approach our defence on the basis of what might happen in the future. History is usually a guide in these matters, and this year we mark the centenary of the introduction of tanks into the battle space. We could have said then, “We must not develop this technology because of the possibility of sticky bombs and tank traps”, but we did not.
One lesson from history must be from Nye Bevan, who said as Foreign Secretary that he should not be sent
“naked into the conference chamber”.
What sort of emperor in new clothing would go into a conference chamber with President Putin, for example, and say, “I don’t have nuclear weapons—well, I have some nuclear-powered subs, but there are no weapons on them”?
The hon. Lady is right. I am enjoying the consensual nature of this debate—it is the House of Commons at its very best. In 1929, J. F. C. Fuller said that tanks would make infantry redundant. In a sense he was right, but his timeframe was completely wrong, and the infantry was adapted rather than abolished. The imminent end of manned fighters was confidently predicted in a 1957 Government White Paper. The important point, which the hon. Lady was trying to make, is that we cannot base our defence on what we imagine might happen.
The threat of cyber and of unmanned underwater vessels should invigorate our countermeasures and our attempts to detect and potentially disrupt aggressors. Nevertheless, just as the Lightning II joint strike fighter may have only half a life before it is rendered obsolescent, we must be open to the possibility that the Successor submarine may at some point over its long life be made obsolete. However, I do not think that a sufficient argument to deploy against the decision we will make today.
The second proposition that I want to touch on is that of reputation theory. The argument is that unilateralism will in some way raise our standing internationally, but that is hopelessly naive. Try saying that to people in Ukraine; try waving the Budapest memo at them. Many will say that had Ukraine not given up its share of the USSR’s nuclear armamentarium—about a third of it—when it became independent, its territory would now be assured and it would not have been invaded by Russia. I do not want to take that argument too far, because others will make counter arguments about the wisdom of Ukraine having nuclear weapons—personally, I am pleased it does not—but from the perspective of a state that is trying to face down an aggressor, that is a powerful argument.
Some say that if we cut our nuclear arsenal others will follow, but there is no evidence to suggest that that is the case. We have cut our arsenal dramatically in recent years, yet other states have increased theirs.
Finally, in this atmosphere of Brexit, when we are re-forging our links with other international organisations and operating in an outward-facing way that I find refreshing, we must think about our permanent membership of the UN Security Council. That membership is contingent on this country offering something. It may pain some right hon. and hon. Members to ponder this, but in large part our membership of that body is down to our continued possession of this terrible weapon.
I rise to support the motion. There are those who do not agree with my position, including in my own party, and I do not disagree that they have the right to hold their position. I respect their position; I do not question their motives, and I believe that people can argue from an alternative position to mine. Unfortunately, respect is something of a rarity in our political landscape at the moment, and it saddens me to say that that includes people in my own party.
Our independent nuclear deterrent has its origins in the great radical and reforming 1945 Labour Government. Political giants of my party took the decision that the UK should develop its own nuclear weapon. They saw that as being vital for our nation’s security against the rising threat from the Soviet bloc and the uncertain world they faced. That commitment to our national security, while pursuing a policy of outward-looking international engagement, has been a cornerstone of Labour’s position, and it is universally shared by our supporters.
Today we face an uncertain world, and some of the threats that we face are the same as those faced by our forebears in 1945. Those threats include state-on-state conflict and a resurgent Russia that is now wedded not to communist ideology and doctrine but to a crude nationalism that has no respect for international boundaries or laws. Russia has a clear path to increasing its military spending and its nuclear arsenal, and it has a doctrine of spheres of influence reminiscent of the 1940s. We also face threats such as Islamic terrorism, global warming and economic uncertainty. Is there one silver bullet to resolve all those threats? No, there is not, but the retention of our nuclear deterrent is vital to resist the threat of a resurgent Russia that is developing its nuclear weapons.
The Leader of the Opposition has portrayed today the uncertainty about the Labour party position. In the last Parliament I was asked by the then Leader of the Opposition to conduct a review of our deterrent. We met 28 stakeholders from all sides of the debate—including my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who was then chair of Labour CND—and that resulted in a report of more than 35,000 words. The report built on the work of the Defence Committee, the Labour Government’s 2006 White Paper and the Trident alternatives review. All the evidence that was taken came to the conclusion that replacing our Vanguard-class submarines was the only alternative. That report fed into our policy review and was adopted at our 2014 conference. That is the policy that I stood under, as did every other Labour candidate, including my right hon. Friend.
If time permits, I hope that my hon. Friend will mention an issue that affects a lot of my constituents in North Staffordshire. A lot of our young people join the military and put their lives on the line for this country. How can we stand here in this Chamber knowing that we are putting their lives on the line, but not giving them the back-up of a nuclear deterrent?
My hon. Friend is saying that the Labour tradition is to support our armed forces, and I totally agree. The manifesto that I and the Leader of the Opposition stood on was also voted on, and 9.3 million members of the electorate supported it. The argument in tonight’s motion is identical to what was in that manifesto. It is ironic that we are having a free vote, since my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) put that argument to the Leader of the Opposition in 2015 and it resulted in her removal from the Labour Front Bench. Unfortunately I, too, had no option but to resign.
The alternatives review by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) has been going on for the past seven months. Much airtime has been given to it, but not a single word has yet been published. It is a bit like the mythical unicorn—people believe it exists, but it has never actually been sighted.
The important point about our deterrent is security, but we cannot forget about the jobs it brings. I am proud to support both Unite and GMB members who work in the industry. They are professional, skilled and dedicated in their work. I challenge those who vote against the motion tonight to look those workers directly in the eye and tell them what the alternatives are for their communities—not empty promises of jobs tomorrow or in the future, but what will happen now.
My party has a proud track record in government on disarmament, to which I am committed, and I am glad the motion contains a commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament. More important for our nation at this time, however, is that walking away from our commitments to our NATO partners would be a fundamental mistake. It would indicate that we were withdrawing from the world, and we cannot afford to do that. Voting for the motion is in the long tradition of my party, which believes in the security of our nation. My party is committed to a peaceful and outward-looking world, and to ensuring that what we do in this House makes a difference and improves people’s lives. That cannot be done unless we have security.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to the debate.
I represent the great city of Plymouth, where we have a long and proud naval history. Plymouth is where the Vanguard-class submarines are repaired and refitted. I will not make an overly lengthy contribution today, but I would like to give my experience of the representations made in my constituency, where the Trident programme plays such a significant role in our local economy. Representatives of Plymouth, sent here to represent our famous naval city, have always taken very seriously our twin responsibilities—to the nation’s security and to the employment prospects of those who have loyally maintained, and continue to maintain, the submarines that carry Trident missiles.
The Vanguard submarines are repaired and refitted at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth. For me and my colleagues who represent Plymouth, they are a vital source of employment for thousands, as they are for other Members with naval bases in their constituencies. That source is not as easily replaced as some might think, and my colleagues’ view and mine is that it would be simply a gamble too far. We live in a desperately unstable world. Last weekend was perhaps the most unstable for years. That should not in itself be an argument for maintaining our Trident programme, but it illustrates how we simply cannot predict events beyond next week, let alone far in the future.
National security is fundamental to delivering all that we come into politics to deliver—a fairer society, social justice and opportunities for all. Without it, none of the causes that I know I share with many Opposition Members would be achievable. The Government have a responsibility to put the security of the nation and its people first and foremost. We need to maintain our ultimate deterrent, because we simply do not know what the future holds.
I am not deaf to those concerned about the costs and risks of maintaining the fleet in Plymouth. There is an active community of people who write to me often about that issue. As with any other contentious issue, I have sought to understand the arguments. I speak to those who agree with me and, more importantly, to those who disagree with me. On this issue, however, I am single-mindedly sure: we must maintain our commitment to this programme and replace the Vanguard-class submarines with the new Successor class. Strategically, we cannot and should not wear the risk that comes with abandoning our continuous at-sea deterrence, and the message that that would send to our NATO allies.
Absolutely. We are proud of our naval heritage in the south-west—we are very proud of the people we support, our servicemen and servicewomen, and we would be delighted to make their lives easier by providing the facilities the south-west affords. Locally, the deterrent means thousands of jobs in Plymouth and a continuance of the Plymouth naval tradition that makes so many of us so proud. It is part of the fabric of our city. To lose that would be disastrous for the communities I am here to represent.
Let us not abstain tonight. Let us not play to our home crowd. Let us stand up for Britain’s place in the world and renew our nuclear deterrent. I say to Opposition Members—not to Scottish National party Members, because I have been struck by their rather childlike interventions about Libya and Iraq, which are totally separate issues—that I know many of my friends on the Labour Benches are of a similar mind to me on this issue. To those who are not, I say that I do not believe they love the country less in any way than those who support the motion. However, all the things we come into politics for are nothing without national security, and that must come first. To deliver the causes that I know are so dear to them and to me, we must renew our nuclear deterrent.
All steps must be taken to ensure the safety of this country’s people. The highly skilled engineering jobs I have talked about cannot be risked. Now, with everything that is going on—not just last weekend, but in the past year—is not the time to lower our guard. The Prime Minister mentioned North Korea. Can we really lose our nuclear weapons at this time? In an ideal world, I agree that it would be great not to have nuclear weapons, but how do we disinvent something that has been invented? The Government must base their decisions on the reality they face; others have the luxury to do otherwise. Trident remains the ultimate deterrent against an attack by those who would harm this country and our people, as it has been for 60 years. The point was made earlier that the Trident system is never used. It is used, every single day. A nuclear deterrent does what it says. The Government’s first priority is to ensure the safety and security of the nation and its people, and that is why I will support the Government’s motion tonight. I will be proud to walk through the Lobby with colleagues from across the House.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) said earlier, there exists in Scotland a broad consensus against Trident. Tonight, I expect 58 of Scotland’s 59 Members of Parliament—98% of Scottish MPs—to vote against the motion. In doing so, we will be reflecting a consensus that exists in Scotland, where the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, the SNP, the Labour party in Scotland, the Scottish Green party, the Scottish TUC, great swathes of Scottish civil society and Scotland’s faith communities are all opposed to having nuclear weapons foisted upon us. Indeed, just last week the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic bishops of Scotland publicly reaffirmed their opposition to the UK possessing these weapons.
As an independent sovereign nation, we would act as every other independent sovereign nation in the world acts. The idea that Scotland is somehow incapable of defending itself as a part of the NATO alliance is absolutely bewildering and, if I may say so, unbelievably patronising. Despite what those on the Tory Benches like to think, Scotland has spoken and Scotland does not want these weapons of mass destruction.
We have heard an awful lot about job losses in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Is that something that concerns him?
Job losses are a concern wherever they occur and whoever the Member is, but I can say that the SNP has never and will never advocate the closure of Faslane. As a conventional naval base, Faslane has a bright non-nuclear future as part of an independent Scotland and I look forward to representing it as such. In the decade since the Government gave over time to debate Trident, the world has changed almost beyond recognition. The threats emerging from this rapidly changing world should force us to re-examine everything we once took for granted. We have heard often this afternoon that the world is a far more dangerous place than ever before. Just as the threats we face are far more complex and nuanced, so our response should be too, but sadly the Government have singularly failed to address that today.
Rushing to arm ourselves with even bigger submarines carrying even more devastating nuclear weapons does not reflect the reality spelled out in last year’s SDSR. Just nine months ago, the SDSR laid out what the Government regarded as tier 1 threats facing the country. As defined by the Government, they were: international terrorism, cyber-attack, hybrid warfare and natural disaster. Nuclear attack by a foreign power was not regarded as a tier 1 threat, yet today we are told that we cannot sleep safely in our beds unless the green light is given to spend almost £200,000 million—as the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) tells us—on a renewal programme.
The world, and the threats we face, are changing, and the UK faces the problem of how to deal with this new world. The choices we make now will determine what we can do in the future, so let us be absolutely clear: as much as we would like to, we cannot do everything. This is about stark choices, and those choices have got an awful lot harder for the proponents of Trident since the Brexit vote and the prospect of our leaving the EU, especially given the recent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which states that the UK’s GDP will reduce by up to 3.5%, resulting in the infamous black hole in the public finances of up to £40 billion by 2020. Surely the House has to know what that means for defence procurement before we sign a blank cheque for Trident.
Surely we are entitled to ask, before sanctioning £200,000 million for nuclear weapons, what the effect will be for our conventional forces. Will the Secretary of State tell us where the axe will fall in order that we might secure Trident? Will the Type 26 frigates be delayed yet again and their number further reduced? Is the Apache helicopter programme at risk? Will the F-35 programme be scaled back? Or will the axe once again fall on our already hard-pressed service personnel? It is not outrageous for the House, which is being asked to write a blank cheque, to ask for a full analysis of the cost of Brexit and the effect that the contraction of the UK economy will have on defence procurement.
We are being asked to buy four submarines, whose unique capability, we are told, is that they cannot be detected by hostile forces and therefore can move freely and undisturbed. That might well be the case today—I am sure they can—but can we honestly say that in 16 years, after we have spent £200,000 million, that unique capability will still exist? Every day, highly paid, highly intelligent people go to work in laboratories across Russia, China and the USA with the express intention of making the big missile submarine detectable and therefore useless. In all probability, by the time these new boats come into service, they will be obsolete and as difficult to detect as a white-hulled cruise ship is today.
There is no moral, economic or military case for possession of these weapons, and I will join my 57 colleagues from Scotland in voting against the motion. Despite Scotland’s overwhelming rejection of Trident, however, sadly I expect the motion to carry and Scotland to find itself in the intolerable position of having weapons of mass destruction that we do not want foisted upon us by a Government we did not elect. It is an intolerable situation, and I question how much longer it can continue.
It is a privilege to speak in a debate on one of the most essential issues that the House could discuss. This is not about a variation in tax policy that could be reversed or a change in social norms that will evolve with time; it is about the ultimate security of our nation in the coming century. This is not a time for games or minor interventions on questions of no relevance. It is time for a debate about the security of our state, the strategy of the UK and her place in the world.
I am proud to stand here, on the Conservative Benches, and look across at the Labour Benches and know that there are many people who value the UK—our freedom, our sovereignty, our liberty, our right to self-determination. I understand that they require an ultimate guarantee. We all know the truly horrific nature of these weapons, but it is through their horror and threat that they work. If they were not so horrific or terrible, the deterrent would not be so complete. We have seen time and again that the awfulness of weaponry demands a graduated response. When we see the initial use of force, we see the armaments of the infantryman and the armaments of small aircraft. We have seen this in Europe in the past century—even in the years since the second world war: we have seen Kosovo, we have seen Ukraine, we have seen threats to our close allies in Estonia.
We see these things, however, because the weapons used are controllable and measurable; they are, to use that awful phrase, small arms. However, the capability and purpose of the nuclear deterrent lies in its not being so measurable or controllable. It is truly horrific; and in that, it works. It works not because of its first-strike capability—any fool can have a first-strike capability—but in the second strike. It works not as a weapon of aggression but only as a post mortem weapon. It is a weapon that assures your enemy that, no matter what they have done to you, you can still respond. It is the ultimate guarantee of our sovereignty and security.
It is astonishing that, having just had a referendum in which we discussed the sovereignty and control of our nation, some people are looking to hand it over and diminish it, even though we know what counts. I therefore welcome what the Prime Minister said today. When asked if she would consider using the weapon, she said yes. She gave the clarity that deterrence requires and showed the strength that will make her a fine Prime Minister. It is that strength and clarity, around the most horrific of all weapons systems, that will maintain our sovereignty and freedom.
I have heard people ask today about the UK’s place in the world. Our place is at the top table, guaranteeing the international order and the freedoms and liberties of our friends. When I hear talk of unilateral disarmament and appeasement, I hear talk not of honour and morality but of dishonour and immorality. It is to abandon our position and our friends to say that dictators and despots should keep their weapons of destruction and nuclear power but that democrats should abandon the ability to defend themselves and their friends. That is unacceptable. The spectrum of defence, from the infantryman to the nuclear missile, is intertwined, is one, is blended. To unpick or divide is to disarm even the infantryman at the front. It is wrong, therefore, to talk of reducing spend on nuclear weapons and a lie to say that the money would be better spent on conventional weapons.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). I am proud to stand here as someone who upholds a position that the Labour party has always stood for—proud to recognise our international responsibilities and proud to recognise that a strong defence is essential to our country.
There is no Member in this Chamber who does not wish to rid the world of nuclear weapons or who believes that they have a superior morality to anyone else, but people disagree about how to pursue the goal that we all share of reducing the number of nuclear weapons and, if at all possible, of having a world completely free of nuclear weapons. We can make a choice to disarm unilaterally or multilaterally, but we live in a more uncertain world.
Who would have predicted a few years ago the rise of Daesh; who would have predicted what the Russians have done in eastern Ukraine or indeed in Crimea? As far as I can see, in reading back to that time, nobody foresaw those events. Given that we are trying to predict what might happen over the next 40 or 50 years, why would any Government say that they would give up the ultimate insurance policy and security for our nation in those circumstances? I do not believe that the Government should do that. I think that the Prime Minister was right to argue as she did, and I view the motion before us today as reasonable and responsible.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question. Having set out the reason for the uncertainty of the future we face, I want in my remaining minutes to dispel some of the myths that are mentioned when nuclear weapons are debated. Nobody here believes that nuclear weapons will in any circumstances deter the sort of attacks—the awful attacks, as we all accept—that we have seen on the London underground or in Nice, for example. Of course not. Nuclear weapons are not meant to deal with that; we have conventional weapons, counter-terrorism specialists and so forth to deal with those terrorist outrages. Nuclear weapons are there to deal with the sort of inter-state actors we might see in Russia, China, North Korea or other rogue states that we cannot predict at the present time. That is what nuclear weapons are for—not for the situation articulated by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson).
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we do not have a bottomless pit or an inexhaustible supply of money, which means that choices have to be made? We are being asked to write a blank cheque for Trident this evening. At what point does Trident become too much for the hon. Gentleman?
That is a legitimate point and we have to make a legitimate choice. I support the Government’s choice because in an uncertain world as we look forward, it is a price worth paying for the defence and security of our nation. The hon. Gentleman and I know each other, so I know he is reading this stuff in a document that says that if we make an assumption that this will use about 6% of the defence budget between 2031 and 2060, Trident will cost £71.4 billion. If we make the assumptions made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), we can get to £179 billion. If we make the assumptions that the hon. Gentleman makes, we can get to another figure. The figures are all in there, and I am saying yes, this is a cost worth paying and something worth doing because it provides security for our nation.
Let me now challenge the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara). I have been reading the Scottish National party’s debate of a few years ago—in October 2012, I believe. Members of the Scottish Parliament resigned because of the ludicrous position into which the SNP had got itself. The Defence Secretary should make more of this point. The ludicrous situation is that the SNP is not prepared to accept British nuclear weapons, but it will accept the American nuclear umbrella in NATO. That is the sort of thing we get from SNP Members and they need to answer it. It is no wonder that some MSPs resigned when they realised that that policy was totally and utterly contradictory. Let them explain that to the Scottish people—that they will withdraw Trident, but want to remain part of NATO.
Of course I am aware of it. Is the hon. and learned Lady aware of the fact that NATO has something called the nuclear planning group, and that every single person in NATO has to be a member of that group and they have to agree to certain things, including the use of nuclear weapons in certain circumstances by the Americans? Is the hon. and learned Lady aware of that?
I cannot give way any more.
Jobs are, of course, another crucial aspect. Tens of thousands of jobs across this country are dependent on the nuclear deterrent and the continuation of this programme. Although the continuation cannot be based solely on jobs, they are an important consideration—whether the jobs be in Scotland, Plymouth or indeed elsewhere.
I very much support the motion. It is consistent with the traditions of the Labour party, which has always been proud to defend our country, proud to recognise our international obligations and proud to stand up against those who have imposed tyranny on the rest of us. We must recognise the responsibilities we have as a senior member of NATO and a senior member of the Security Council of the UN. That comes with obligations and responsibilities. This Labour party—or part of it, anyway—accepts those responsibilities and will vote for the motion.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who has made not only a passionate speech, but an extremely well informed and able speech that puts very well the case for maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent. It is striking that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should choose this debate as the first occasion on which to appear at the Dispatch Box as Prime Minister to reinforce her personal will and determination to stand up for this country, to stand up for global peace and security and to demonstrate her personal resolve to project the values that our country represents around the world.
It is also striking that her very first act as Prime Minister was to pay respect to Scotland and the Scottish Executive by visiting the First Minister at the end of last week. If I may, I would like to address the Scottish dimension to the debate. The SNP is clearly represented in this House by many sincere unilateralists. No one need doubt their sincerity, but I very much doubt whether their views are as representative of Scottish opinion as they claim.
A recent poll showed a majority in Scotland in favour of maintaining the nuclear deterrent. [Interruption.] SNP Members shake their heads, and they are entitled to do so—I would expect them to—but I put it to them that there are many reasons why the SNP is ascendant in Scottish politics, and I do not think that their defence policy is one of them. I think they would still be doing well in Scotland if they were in favour of maintaining the Trident nuclear deterrent. I do not think that the case of Trident renewal was uppermost in voters’ minds in Scotland at the time of the last general election or the Scottish election.
I appreciate that it was in their manifesto, but what of the bit of hypocrisy highlighted so ably by the hon. Member for Gedling? On the one hand, they reject the whole notion of nuclear defence, yet they want an independent Scotland to join NATO, which is a nuclear alliance, and benefit from the shelter that other countries are prepared to provide them with as part of the nuclear umbrella.
Perhaps, given his in-depth knowledge of Scottish politics, the hon. Gentleman can explain my presence in the Chamber today as the Member of Parliament for Argyll and Bute, a constituency that includes both Faslane and Coulport. Perhaps he can explain why the people of Faslane, Coulport and the rest of Argyll and Bute chose me when I stood explicitly on an anti-Trident ticket, if it is such a terrible and divisive vote-loser.
I will move on to the next point, Mr Deputy Speaker.
My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is fond of describing Trident as an insurance policy, but I counsel him to use that phrase sparingly, because the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent is so much more than just an insurance policy. It is not a premium. That description “de-emphasises” the way in which the deterrent is continuously used, shaping our global security environment, and expressing the character of our country and our national will and resolve. It does not sufficiently emphasise its deterrent quality, which is not to deter terrorism or much lower forms of combat.
The invention of nuclear weapons has undoubtedly ended large-scale state-on-state warfare, and I would even be so bold as to suggest that were we to disinvent them, we would be inviting the resumption of such warfare. I am not sure that human nature miraculously changed after 1945, but something in the global strategic environment certainly did, and we no longer see that large-scale state-on-state warfare.
Members of the Scottish National party have made much of the cost of Trident today, but let me ask them this question: how cheap would it need to be before they regarded it as good value for money? I do not think that that is an argument with which they are prepared to engage. They are against nuclear weapons whatever the cost, and they are perfectly sincere about that, so I invite them to stop bellyaching about the cost, because it is an irrelevant part of their argument.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the use of huge figures in isolation is at best unhelpful and at worst misleading? When applied across a 35-year time horizon, such massive figures would, in fact, be dwarfed by our international aid budget.
My hon. Friend is right. The cost of maintaining the nuclear deterrent on a year-on-year basis is much less than our aid budget. A year’s cost of the Trident missile submarine system is the equivalent of one week’s spending on the national health service. It is also about a quarter of our net contribution to the European Union, and I look forward to saving that cost.
At about 6% of the overall defence budget and about 2% of GDP, this weapons system represents extraordinarily good-value expenditure, given that it deters large-scale state-on-state warfare. It is a matter of great pride that our country has inherited this role, and, precisely because we do not want every NATO country or every democracy to have nuclear weapons, it is our duty as global citizens to retain the system, contributing, as we do, to the global security and safety of the world.
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, would he like to reconsider his comment that we were hypocrites because we did not want an independent nuclear deterrent, but did want to be in NATO? Does he realise that he was calling the majority of the United Kingdom’s allies in NATO hypocrites?
As was explained so ably by the hon. Member for Gedling, if a country is a member of NATO, it is a member of the NATO nuclear group. It is involved in the planning of deployment of nuclear weapons, regardless of whether they are its own weapons. Why would Scotland, under the Scottish National party, be so reluctant to play such a vital role in the global security of the country? I respect the fact that SNP members have personal scruples about nuclear weapons, and they are entitled to those scruples. I am merely arguing that were the Scottish people truly to vote on that issue and that issue alone, they might well find that their view was not representative of the aspiration of the true majority of Scots.
Some of the speeches that we have heard today have given me the feeling that the cold war is still going on, and “Come On Eileen” should be number one in the charts. At the other extreme, it has seemed that we are sitting here waiting for Mars to attack. A number of the arguments have struck me as slightly bizarre. However, this is a hugely serious issue.
We hear a great deal about the cost and the finances, but let us take a step back from that. Let us consider the worst-case scenario. Nuclear weapons have been fired in this country. There has been an attack. It has gone off. Are we really saying that our very first action would be the ultimate act of vengeance—that we would fire a nuclear weapon at those who had attacked us?
No. I think we have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman.
We need to think about how we actually present ourselves as a country. We cannot simply sit here saying, “Vengeance is the answer to all the problems that we face.” Some call it deterrence, but to me it is vengeance. We would be carrying out a revenge attack.
Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) asked the Prime Minister whether she would fire, and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Let us consider that question, because it is the question that we should be considering. That is what these weapons do.
I will not take interventions. I am keen to make my speech as quickly as possible, because a number of other Members wish to speak.
Do we genuinely want to renew this weapon of vengeance? That is what the debate boils down to. We are talking about rogue states. We are talking about situations that we cannot yet begin to comprehend. The threats that the country currently faces are not posed by states with nuclear weapons; they are posed by terrorist attacks and cyber-attacks. Nuclear weapons are not the answer to those problems.
Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Scottish CND who have come from all over the country to lobby us. They came to Parliament last week, there were events throughout the country over the weekend, and more came here today. Some Members will know that last year I presented a ten-minute rule Bill on the nuclear convoys that regularly travel through my constituency. Sadly, the Bill ran out of parliamentary time and could not be given a Second Reading, but to me the answer seems simple. If we do not have the nuclear weapons, we do not need the nuclear convoys, and we can reduce the risk to those in our communities.
Let me end with a thought for Members to ponder. At the weekend, a friend said to me that if 50 nuclear warheads were set off—which is not impossible; we certainly have that capability—the result would be worldwide famine. That is the reality of the weapons that we are dealing with. There can be no place for them in the world in which we live today. It is time for the country to take a lead, to make a stand, and to say, “We are taking the first step.” By doing that, it could genuinely make the other countries follow its lead, and we could get rid of nuclear weapons throughout the world.
We have been debating the issue of whether we should have an independent nuclear deterrent for 70 years. I suppose Ernest Bevin summed it up well. We have already heard the quotation about walking naked into the conference chamber, but Bevin said—only he could speak like this:
“We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. We’ve got to have the Union Jack on top of it.”
Like all of us, I have thought about this issue for many years, and, like most people, I have reluctantly concluded that we must have an independent nuclear deterrent. However, the debate is not just about whether or not we have an independent nuclear deterrent. I was campaigning with my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) 30 years ago in the Coalition for Peace through Security. The argument was about the existence of the independent nuclear deterrent, and we were supporting Michael Heseltine against unilateralists, particularly in the Labour party.
This is a serious debate in which we have to ask what sort of independent nuclear deterrent we want. I think it is our general conclusion that an independent nuclear deterrent based on submarines is the only viable form of a deterrent because it is the most undetectable given modern technology. I have no ideological qualms with either an independent nuclear deterrent or one based on submarines, but those who argue in favour of Trident have to keep making the case, because during the cold war the threat was clear and known, and an independent nuclear deterrent based on ballistic missiles designed to penetrate Moscow defences made a great deal of sense; we knew who would be striking us, and we knew who to strike back against, and this mutuality of awareness was what kept the cold war cold. Those who argue against a nuclear deterrent have to meet this fact of history: the existence of nuclear weapons kept the cold war cold.
To support what my hon. Friend has just said, if there had not been many conflicts going on in other parts of the world where the nuclear balance of terror did not apply during the cold war, it would be possible to argue that nuclear deterrence had played no part, but the fact is that communist regimes—proxy clients, as it were, for the superpowers—were fighting each other all over the globe. The one area where communism and capitalism did not fight each other was in Europe, because that is where the balance of power and the balance of terror was doing its work.
Of course I agree with that; I think that is a fact of history that is generally recognised. We have heard many powerful speeches—in particular those by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat)—making the case for the independent nuclear deterrent, but I say to my colleagues who made those powerful speeches that, fair enough, we are going to have an independent nuclear deterrent, but it is not good enough to say that the cost is not an issue. I am looking at this purely as a longstanding member of the Public Accounts Committee, and I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) that a total cost of £31 billion plus a contingency of £10.6 billion plus an ongoing cost of 6% of the defence budget is a lot of money, and we must constantly probe the Government, question them and ask whether we are getting good value for money. I accept the arguments and I have read the reports, and I know all the alternatives have problems, but we simply cannot give a blank cheque to the military-industrial complex; we cannot, as good parliamentarians concerned with good value for money, stop questioning British Aerospace and other providers all over the country on whether they are providing good value for money.
The cross-party Trident commission talked about three possible threats: the re-emergence of a cold war-style scenario; an emerging new nuclear power engaging in strategic competition with the UK; or a rogue state or terrorist group engaging in an asymmetric attack against the UK. The commission found that there were questions about whether this particular system—which is what I am talking about; I am not talking about arguments in favour of an independent nuclear deterrent—would be viable against these threats, so we must require the Secretary of State and the MOD to go on answering these questions.
I am probably not making myself popular with Members on either side of the House who have very strong views, but when I came to this place one of the first ways I irritated a sitting Prime Minister—Mrs Thatcher—was to team up with David Heathcoat-Amory and question whether we needed a ballistic missile system and whether Cruise missiles would not be a viable alternative. I know that those who sit on the Defence Committee, who will know much more about defence, have dismissed this, but in recent years the American Government have converted four of their ballistic missile-carrying submarines into submarines that carry Cruise missiles.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech on the cost, and he is absolutely right of course that we must keep costs under review and make sure that BAE and others deliver on time and on budget, but on the question of Cruise missiles, is there not a danger that were we to nuclear-arm Cruise missiles, any Cruise attack would have to be seen as a nuclear attack and therefore to be responded to in kind? Is there not a danger that Cruise missiles would up the ante, rather than lower it?
That is a powerful point, and I am not taking an absolutist position. I know that many Members do want to take an absolutist position on this, but I am not suggesting today that Cruise missiles are the answer, and my hon. Friend made the powerful point that the whole reason behind our independent nuclear deterrent is that it is not a system of first resort; that is what he was arguing, and he made that point again in that intervention. What I am trying to argue is that when our defence spending is so tightly constrained, whatever the arguments—and they are very powerful arguments—in favour of an independent nuclear deterrent, we have to keep questioning the Government on what was the source-argument for having a ballistic system of massive power designed to penetrate hugely powerful defences around Moscow, because that is not the threat we face today from either low-grade rogue states or terrorist movements.
I will be voting with the Government tonight, but I will not be handing them a blank cheque. I will be continuing to ask for value for money, and I believe every Member of the House should do the same.
May I say at the outset that I was a multilateralist during the cold war? I supported the balance of terror in Europe, I have never been a member of CND and, indeed, once the atom was split we could not unmake it. But the world has changed, and that is why I have changed my view.
May I also acknowledge the genuine and understandable concerns of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies that are intimately involved in the renewal of the Trident project? I would feel exactly the same way if I was representing their constituents, with 30,000 jobs at risk. I understand that, but the cost of this programme is admitted to be between £31 billion and who knows what, because the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have not answered the question put by the leader of the SNP about the final costs of the programme. I do not believe that can be justified as value for money when I think a number of the arguments are flawed.
What are those arguments? Usually three are put forward. The first is that the system is independent. It is not; the UK has four nuclear submarines, each of which can carry up to eight missiles. The UK does not own the missiles; it leases them from America.
The UK leases the missiles from America, where they are made, maintained and tested. Our four submarines have to go to the American naval base in Georgia to have the missiles fitted. That is a fact. It is of course said by those who support renewal that we have “operational independence”. Bearing in mind that we do not own the missiles but lease them from America, I just do not believe that there is any scenario in which a British Prime Minister would authorise a submarine commander to use the nuclear weapons anywhere in the world without first notifying the Americans.
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he is being very reasonable in his approach. The point about the second centre of decision making, which both Republican and Democrat American Governments have supported since 1958, is about the danger that another country might think it could pick off the UK without the Americans responding on our behalf. They probably would respond but it would be too late by the time the aggressor found that out. That is why knowing that the UK can defend itself is welcomed by the Americans, so that no fatal miscalculation of that sort can be made.
I have debated these issues with the right hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions and I respect what he says, but I just do not agree with him.
The second argument put forward is that if the UK did not have nuclear weapons, it would, somehow, lose its place on the UN Security Council. That is nonsense, because when the Security Council was formed only one of the five permanent members had nuclear weapons—America. If it is now argued that to be a member of the UN Security Council, one has to have nuclear weapons, countries such as Japan, Germany and Brazil, which have legitimate claims to become part of an enlarged Security Council, would not be allowed to join, but three countries would be able to join—North Korea, Israel, and Pakistan, because they all have nuclear weapons.
The third argument is that nuclear weapons give us protection in an ever-changing world. This country, like all other developed countries, faces threats to its security from rogue states, international terrorist groups and groups within our own society who want to destroy it. As I have said many times, these threats are best met by our membership of NATO, the most successful mutual defence pact in history. It never attacked anybody between the time it was set up in 1948 and the end of the cold war. The tragedy of NATO has been that after the cold war—after the Berlin wall came down—it changed from being a mutual defence pact and became the world’s policeman, and that has caused enormous problems in its member countries. I believe that our security is best guaranteed by NATO, but I also believe that all the countries of NATO should contribute towards the cost of the nuclear umbrella; they should not get a free ride from America.
The way to deal with threats from terrorism, domestic or international, is by having a fully staffed and fully financed Security Service, by ensuring that the police have the money to do the job they need to do and by ensuring that our own conventional forces are given the tools for the job when they are sent into military conflicts on our behalf. The Chilcot report, which came out a week or so ago, graphically identified the deficiencies in materials and protections that our troops in Iraq faced. British soldiers should not go into any conflict on our behalf without the best equipment and protection we can give them.
Let me make this final point. We have witnessed terrible terrorist atrocities in the past year or so, and we witnessed the London bombings, but did our ownership of nuclear weapons prevent these things? We saw what happened in Paris and at the weekend in Nice, but did France’s nuclear deterrent prevent those things from happening? I am not convinced that spending a huge sum on renewing our nuclear deterrent, which I do not believe is independent, is justified; we should support NATO, back it and contribute to it, but I am not convinced that this is value for money. That is why I will vote against the motion this evening.
Margaret Thatcher and, I believe, Tony Benn used to say that there are no final victories in politics. Despite the storms of past controversies and the hard work required to win important arguments, some arguments need to be won again and again, by each generation in turn, and so we are here again today. Some politicians talk as though a world without nuclear weapons were a possibility that could be realised, or at least seriously advanced, by our giving up our own unilaterally; as if the threat from nuclear armed states is not real, growing and still unanswered; and as if Britain should, in these times of all times—these post-Brexit times when we need our friends and allies more than ever—step back from our own defence and that of our allies. In essence, whether opponents say it or not, they suggest that we should piggy-back on our already stretched friends.
Today, we are discussing the nuclear deterrent.
We have heard some curious arguments tonight. We have heard an argument that this is all about cost, but security is not about cost; security is the foundation of everything we hold dear. Without security, there is nothing. Without security, the costs are incalculable.
Nuclear deterrence has preserved the security and stability of this country for half a century. When I was a teenager, our national response to what appeared to be the end of the Soviet menace in the 1990s was to plan for a reduction in the size of our nuclear arsenal, without abandoning our commitment to an independent deterrent capability. That was then a sensible way to hedge against unpredictable future threats to this country’s vital interests. It was the right approach then and it is the right approach again today.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, will have browsed through the business pages of The Sunday Telegraph yesterday. He will have noticed that there is some concern as to whether BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce can actually deliver the Successor programme on time and on budget. Does he think it would be wise for the Secretary of State to make contingency plans for possible failure in that direction?
The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point. As I understand it, the Secretary of State is committed to reporting annually on the progress of the project, and I hope that will give some comfort to the hon. Gentleman and to all of us who want to see it proceed successfully.
In the time I have available, let me summarise the arguments as I see them. First, deterrence is not simply for the cold war history books, as some have said this evening. Deterrence remains essential to prevent major wars from occurring between nation states, and to prevent our being coerced and blackmailed by threats from those who possess nuclear weapons. Deterrence also extends into war itself, ensuring—or attempting to ensure—that any war, whether large or small, is a limited war.
Secondly, we still live in a uniquely dangerous world, at risk of terrorist attack, as we heard from the Prime Minister earlier. We are also at risk and uncertain in terms of nation states and other major powers around the world, as other hon. Members have said. A couple of days ago, I saw on television the dignified face of Marina Litvinenko, as she stood on College Green, outside this building. She is a living testament to the danger and unpredictability of the regime in Russia.
We have seen further evidence of the growing long-term instability in Asia with the escalation of the South China sea dispute. That is surely one of the disputes that will mark out our generation and beyond, and which in turn will encourage the United States to pivot its attention and resources further towards the Pacific and away from Europe’s security. In late June, North Korea succeeded in launching a home-grown intermediate-range ballistic missile, which flew a distance of 250 miles to the Sea of Japan after five previous failed attempts. And let us not forget that it is little over a year since the signing of Iran’s nuclear deal, which I suspect will only delay the prospect of that country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Hon. Members might not be aware that Iran celebrated the first anniversary of the signing of that deal by firing a long-range ballistic missile using North Korean technology.