Motion to Take Note
My Lords, a Motion on the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent will be debated in the other place on Monday next week, and in particular the Government’s commitment to build four new ballistic missile submarines to maintain the UK’s continuous at-sea deterrent posture. Given the overwhelming importance of the matter at hand and its pivotal implications for the future security and prosperity of this country, time has been set aside for us to consider the issues at stake and to help inform the forthcoming debate.
I do not need to remind your Lordships that the first duty of any Government is to safeguard their people against external aggression, a task that grows in complexity and scale along with the palpable threats that inform it. In the words of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review:
“Defence and protection start with deterrence, which has long been, and remains, at the heart of the UK’s national security policy”.
Deterrence means convincing potential aggressors that the benefits of attacking are far outweighed by the consequences. Decades of careful foreign and defence policy, formulated in concert with our allies, have ensured that our deterrence arsenal is well stocked, ranging from the soft-power tools of diplomacy and economic policy on the one hand to the hard power of our Armed Forces on the other.
At the extreme end of this arsenal is, of course, continuous at-sea deterrence—or CASD—the UK’s minimum credible and assured nuclear deterrent that is the ultimate guarantor of our national security and way of life. We have maintained CASD successfully and unceasingly for nearly 50 years to deter nuclear attack, nuclear blackmail and extreme threats that cannot be countered by any other means. Our nuclear deterrent kept us and our NATO allies safe for the duration of the Cold War and it continues to do so in this post-Cold War era. That is why this Government are committed to building four new ballistic missile submarines to replace our ageing Vanguard fleet—a commitment that we stated prominently in the manifesto on which we were elected last year. It is a commitment that must be acted upon now if we are to replace our current fleet on time and without a break in our CASD posture. It is a commitment that no responsible Government should, or indeed could, rescind, for three compelling reasons. First, we live in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world. We cannot rule out the future possibility of extreme threats to the UK emerging. Therefore, CASD remains as relevant as ever. Secondly, we take our responsibilities to the British people and to our allies seriously. Thirdly, in an unstable nuclear world, we must be realistic when it comes to the goal of disarmament. So the reasons are relevance, responsibility and realism; let me take each in turn.
First, I will speak to relevance. Despite being a by-product of the Second World War and a defining facet of the Cold War, the nuclear deterrent is no relic of the past. Yes, the world has changed. The Soviet Union no longer exists, new global power dynamics have evolved and technology has changed the way we fight wars, but the nuclear threat has remained throughout. In fact, if anything, it has become more dangerous as the international situation has become increasingly fragmented and less predictable. The facts speak for themselves. Today, there are an estimated 17,000 nuclear weapons around the world, a figure that could well rise. North Korea is particularly worrying. It has stated a clear intent to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. This year, it has conducted a fourth nuclear test, a space launch that used ballistic missile technology, and several ballistic missile launches. It is attempting to develop a submarine launch capability for nuclear weapons, and claims to be testing components for a future intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
Nuclear aspirants aside, the threat from established nuclear states remains clear and present. As I speak, a resurgent Russia is in the midst of upgrading its nuclear forces, including commissioning a new class of nuclear-armed submarine. At the same time, it has increased the frequency of its snap nuclear exercises, and there has been a notable escalation in its official rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons—most recently, threatening to base nuclear forces in Kaliningrad and Crimea.
This is the briefest of glimpses at our national threat assessment. However, the decision to replace our Vanguard fleet rests not on the here and now but on what the world could look like in the 2030s, 2040s, 2050s and beyond, when the Successor fleet would be in operation. Given the parlous state of world affairs now, can we say with any certainty that the nuclear threat will disappear within that time or that no new threat will emerge? Of course we cannot. Given our inability to predict some of the world’s most seismic events in recent decades—the end of the Cold War, the rise of Daesh and Russia’s annexation of Crimea—is it fair to say that, within reason, anything could happen? Of course it is.
It is our duty, not only to current generations but to ones not yet born, to act now to retain our strategic nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the current system and so preserve the ultimate safeguard of our national security. Let me be unequivocal here: nothing less than our current CASD posture will do. Those who seek to dilute our deterrent by proposing a different, cheaper or diminished posture are no better than those who seek to scrap Trident altogether. We estimate four new submarines would cost £31 billion spread over 35 years and have set a contingency of £10 billion, a prudent estimate based on past experience of large, complex projects. On average, that amounts to 20 pence in every £100 the Government spend, for a system that will provide a capability through to the 2060s. I believe that this is a price worth paying to keep our country safe.
From 2020, all the Royal Navy’s operational submarines will be based at Faslane. HM Naval Base Clyde is one of the largest employment sites in Scotland and will sustain around 8,200 military and civilian jobs by 2022. Furthermore, the specialist skills required in this industry—in engineering, software development and design—will keep our nation at the cutting edge of technological advancement for many years to come. If the decision were taken to discontinue the programme, not only would we lose the ultimate guarantee of our security and sovereignty, but local economies would be crippled and key skills lost, while our chances of regaining those skills and capabilities would be dealt a mortal blow.
But this is about far more than national self-interest: it is about our international responsibility, because if we failed to renew our strategic nuclear deterrent, we would be gambling with not only our own future but the future security of our NATO allies. NATO is a nuclear alliance that is the cornerstone of our defence, one that has arguably become all the more load-bearing in the wake of Brexit. Along with those of the US and France, our nuclear forces are a key facet of NATO’s commitment to collective defence, providing a robust nuclear umbrella under which many non-nuclear nations shelter. Our contribution massively enhances the alliance’s overall deterrent effect by providing added agility and resilience and by complicating the calculations of potential adversaries. To renege on our commitment while expecting the US and France to continue protecting us would be a dereliction of duty that would diminish our integrity in the eyes of our allies, diminish NATO’s credibility in the eyes of the world, and embolden our adversaries.
That leads me to my final point, which is about the need for a good dose of realpolitik when it comes to considering how a decision not to renew our deterrent would be received by our adversaries. All sides of this debate share an ambition to see a world in which nuclear weapons states feel able to relinquish their weapons. The UK is committed to working towards multilateral disarmament under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact, we have done more than most to fulfil our obligations. Since the height of the Cold War, we have reduced our nuclear forces by well over half, and we remain committed to reducing our stockpile of nuclear weapons to no more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s, approximately 1% of the declared global total. But despite our honourable intent, have others had a change of heart? Quite the opposite. Instead, we have an increasingly recalcitrant Russia and North Korea and the threat of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism.
We all want to see a world where nuclear weapons are no longer necessary, but unilateral disarmament by the UK is not a route to achieving that. It would only weaken our ability to bring about lasting change. The only viable alternative is to work multilaterally to create a safer and more stable world in which states with nuclear weapons have the confidence to relinquish them. It sounds almost as Utopian as unilateral disarmament, but it can be done. Just look at the success achieved by the US and the former Soviet Union under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which reduced both parties’ deployed strategic warheads from about 12,000 to some 6,000 in total. Look at the recent deal with Iran—encouraging evidence of what we can achieve through diplomatic negotiations.
So, despite the very real threats that we face, there is cause for hope, and we should find further grounds for hope in our collective will—in this Chamber, in this country and among our allies—to create a world in which nuclear weapons are no longer necessary. But it is imperative that we go about achieving this in a measured, intelligent and cohesive way that does not leave us, our allies and future generations fatally exposed in a world fraught with danger. Let us make no mistake. We stand at this moment at a critical juncture. One path leads to uncertainty, vulnerability and powerlessness on an unstable and volatile world stage, while the other will lead us to a place where we can continue to shape our own future and have a positive stake in global affairs. To me, as a part of the Government entrusted with defending our realm, there is no real choice here, just an imperative. We must replace our Vanguard class submarines. No responsible Government would or could do otherwise.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate and I extend my sympathies to him for having an employer that requires him to work such an excessively long day. The hour is late so I will try to make my contribution as brief as possible, but before I move on to my main point, I have a question for the Minister: why now? Why is this vote to be taken next Monday? I do not resile in any way from the commitment made and passed by the Labour Party in the past to hold a vote at around this time; that is, at about the point of what we would have once called the main gateway. But the actual date is next week. We have to make a decision based on no Green Paper, no White Paper and the fact that the Defence Select Committee has not addressed the issue recently. There are no obvious programme milestones. The only thing the Government have produced before the noble Earl’s speech is a document published on 24 March this year which is grossly superficial. It does not set out any costs or lay out seriously the programme.
I am particularly sorry for the new Prime Minister. It is probably only tonight that she will be getting the detailed secret information that only she and certain high-ranking officials are privy to about this issue, yet for political reasons on Monday she will have to support this decision wholeheartedly. I also believe that there is a Chilcot dimension to this. There is a new question around how decisions about going to war are made. I recognise that we cannot know the detail, but we need assurances that those points have been taken into account. Finally, I hope that the Government can give us some indication of the ongoing scrutiny of this project. The partnership of Her Majesty’s Government and BAE Systems does not have a very good record in delivering submarines—and indeed not a very good record in delivering many things. We need to look at the whole issue of value for money and I believe that Parliament should be involved.
The purpose of this debate is not to come to a conclusion as such; there will be no vote at the end and we cannot divide on the matter. It is really to allow many wise and experienced people in the Chamber to get their views out in the open and available to Members at the other end so that they can take account of them in their debate. I have to say that my contribution will add little to that since it contains very little advocacy, but it is appropriate that I set out in a little detail at this point the Labour Party’s position because other noble Lords may want to refer to it.
The 2015 Labour Party election manifesto contained on page 78 the following paragraph:
“Labour remains committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. We will actively work to increase momentum on global multilateral disarmament efforts and negotiations, and look at further reductions in global stockpiles and the numbers of weapons”.
Sadly, we did not win that election and therefore not unreasonably there was a review of our policies. It took place through an organisation known as the National Policy Forum, which produced a report. Page 69 contains the following:
“The manifesto outlined Labour’s commitment to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. It also stated the Party’s commitment to actively work to increase momentum on global multilateral disarmament efforts and negotiations, and look at further reductions in global stockpiles and the numbers of weapons”.
That document went to our party conference and was seized upon by the conference arrangements committee, where there was an effort to have a separate vote on the Trident renewal issue. The attempt was roundly defeated, and received less than 1% support from the trade unions and only a little more than 7% support from constituency Labour parties. Subsequently, there was an affirmative vote to accept the National Policy Forum Report 2015 which contained the paragraph that I have just quoted.
Given that only our conference can change policy, the Labour Party is committed to the maintenance of a continuous at-sea deterrent. However, it is clear that our leader Jeremy Corbyn does not necessarily personally hold that view firmly. He is strongly opposed to weapons of mass destruction and a long-time supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He is opposed to the replacement of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system and supports the creation of a defence diversification agency to assist the transfer of jobs and skills to the civilian sector. It is not that Members do not know of that position but I felt it reasonable to set it out.
Accordingly, he initiated, as party leaders do, a review of our defence policy. I am informed that that review has not reached a conclusion on the deterrent, has not been published and, so far, has not gone to our conference. In parallel with that process, the Labour Back-Bench defence committee in the other place has conducted a comprehensive review of deterrent policy, held many meetings, consulted a wide variety of experts and witnesses and has concluded:
“The report therefore concludes that there has been no substantial change in the circumstances surrounding the deterrent since the 2015 Labour election manifesto and its annual conference later that year reaffirmed the party’s commitment to replace the UK Vanguard submarine fleet. Renewal by completing the current programme to build four successor submarines to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence continues to offer the maximum security and value for money. Other options either compromise UK security or add to cost. Many alternatives do both. The recommendation of this report is that Labour maintains its existing policy of supporting renewal in the upcoming vote”.
I hope that I have presented a fair overview of the Labour position. I reiterate that Labour supports the maintenance of a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. Later this evening, my noble friend Lord Touhig will make the case for that position with his usual passion and vigour.
My Lords, I should declare that I am a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that I take comfort from the fact that the debate on replacing Vanguard has been going on since 2006, when his Government were in power. As for the Liberal Democrats, our thinking about Trident has been an almost continuous feature of Lib Dem angst for the 25 years in which I have been involved in the party’s policy dimension. Perhaps because I am an outlier in that debate, I am not involved in it any longer. However, let me set out my thoughts.
It was because of our appreciation that the political and security environment as well as technology were changing apace that on joining the coalition one of our red lines was that the country should have an independent analysis of the merits of the proposal to renew the Trident submarines. The result was the Trident Alternatives Review, which was the first to be undertaken in this country in the 60-year history of the UK being a nuclear power. It is to the credit of the coalition that its conclusions were made public so that the country at large could appreciate the reasoning behind the conclusions. The main objective of TAR was to assess the viability of different options open to the UK beyond like-for-like replacement of the Vanguard-Trident system, and particularly to look at credible alternatives. TAR concluded, as I think we all agree across this House, that to use nuclear weapons will be a failure of the entire edifice on which our policy of nuclear deterrence rests. The review said that nuclear weapons are,
“a political tool of last resort rather than a war fighting capability”.
Effectively this reiterated that the UK ruled out the actual use of a weapon unless as a final resort under existential threat, and uses its nuclear capability as a deterrent to potential aggressors in a limited fashion, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, set out.
However, I do not see an independent nuclear deterrent solely as part of our own national security architecture. We also use it to fulfil our international obligations. TAR states that,
“the UK’s deterrent is made available to NATO as a contribution to the Alliance’s collective deterrence”.
That is even more relevant in the week after the 60th anniversary of founding of the Warsaw Pact. This is relevant in that the brave new world of hope for an absence of war has not come to pass. NATO has had to deploy along its eastern frontier again, and faces challenges that we did not contemplate when it established its open-door policy of accepting into membership all those states that were ready. In a world where NATO, in my view, has extended its Article 5 collective defence umbrella too far and fast, it is we, alongside France and the US, who carry the most credible deterrence capability through being nuclear weapons states.
I turn to the arguments for continuous at-sea deterrence, CASD, or the proposal for a like-for-like replacement. TAR looked at alternative systems and alternative postures—continuous at-sea deterrence or reduced levels of patrol. CASD, in order for the UK’s nuclear deterrent to be credible, is the form that we have had all these years. However, credibility is the foundational pillar on which deterrence strategy rests, whether nuclear or non-nuclear. To retain credibility you need to consider five things: readiness, reach, resolve, survivability and destructive power. Alternative systems and alternative postures are interlinked because the former affects the latter. When looking at postures, the criterion for credibility was important. The current CASD posture is capable of delivering high readiness and reach, in the sense that submarines can patrol very far from UK shores. These capabilities demonstrate our resolve. The successor submarines’ ability to be detected only when they launch a weapon means that they would survive an attack and be able to attack again. The Trident warhead was deemed to have sufficient destructive power. All five criteria known to adversaries fulfilled the whole point of deterrence, and it is accepted widely that these capabilities would not be duplicated in the short term by other powers, particularly not by those there is so much talk about which are deemed to be rogue states.
However, I am aware that even in the short space of time since 2013, the political and technological environment has changed. In political terms, we have a more belligerent posture adopted by traditional nuclear weapon states. On the other hand, we know that growing numbers of our citizens are concerned about the threats of the use of force and nuclear proliferation. We also have technological advances such as more advanced ballistic missile defences and antisubmarine warfare. I therefore accept that missile defence shields, cyberwarfare and stealth systems inter alia could potentially render successor systems and missiles redundant. I also accept that in time we may have to move beyond reliance on a single delivery system.
I would have wanted also to consider the arguments about costs because they are very much part of the political debate but time does not permit that and I need to conclude. Suffice it to say that an in-service running cost of around 6% of the annual defence budget, or of 0.13% of total government spending, may be a significant sum but it should be seen as a worthwhile insurance policy. For those reasons I have to say that I am for the Motion.
My Lords, the issue before the other place is the procurement of four new submarines, but it is not unreasonable at this time to contribute to our ongoing reflection on why we have a nuclear deterrent at all. It is often said that countries and armies tend to prepare to fight the war that was fought 50 or more years ago without noticing how the world has changed, not least technology. Indeed, our recollection of the Battle of the Somme—when infantry charged machine guns—brings that rather vividly to mind.
A lot has changed in this respect since the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, when our thinking on nuclear deterrence was first shaped. One of my questions is whether our own thinking is moving on with the changed context from those now rather far off days. An empire has gone and the UK is no longer the international player that it once was, even if we do continue to punch above our weight in geopolitical terms. NATO has developed into surely the most significant mutual defence pact in history. Communism has essentially disappeared and, whatever one makes of Russia—which Churchill, of course, famously called,
“a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”—
the threat that it poses is surely very different from what went before. For all the criticism that is made of President Putin, I personally do not recognise the same level or type of threat from him as from Stalin and Kruschev, but I recognise that some people take different views. I also recognise that the invasion—or the annexing—of Crimea was illegal, but it did have the support of 98% of the population, as I understand it.
The threats that the world faces have mutated in the face of the culture war between fundamentalist strands of Islam, with their rejection of all that western civilisation represents, and the ever more ubiquitous presence of the symbols of the western world on the global stage—so terrorism has become global. Perhaps, God forbid, the forces of terrorism will one day acquire a nuclear capacity of some sort but, if they do, I am not sure that submarine-based nuclear missiles, however sophisticated, will be much of a counter threat.
The extraordinary rise of cybercrime and cyberthreats can be predicted only to become an ever greater—probably much greater—threat in the years and decades to come. The digital revolution will also support ever more effective shields against ballistic missiles, as we are already seeing. Perhaps sophisticated surveillance will come to pose greater threats against submarines if major states in confrontation continue to adopt an explicit policy based on mutually assured destruction. I can never quite get away from the fact that the first letters of those words spell “mad”. The rules of the game are of course much less certain today compared with the assumptions that were more easily made in the 1950s and 1960s. Is it still possible to envisage the circumstances in which this country would unilaterally send one of our Trident missiles on its way to a real target? It is certainly more possible today to wonder whether this is still credible.
The Christian churches in this country, in their official policies and pronouncements, present something of a consensus against the proposed renewal of Trident submarines. No doubt individual Christians take a variety of views across the whole spectrum—of course they do. In the Church of England’s case, in 1983 there was a report, The Church and the Bomb, in which it toyed with the hope that the UK might in fact unilaterally renounce its nuclear deterrent, but the Church rowed back from that and has never adopted that position, recognising that it was not equipped to reach such a conclusion in such a complex, political set of circumstances as surrounds this debate.
Clearly today the UK is set upon ordering a new generation of submarines equipped with nuclear missiles, which will renew this country’s nuclear deterrent until 2060 or beyond. I simply express the hope that, during that period, ever greater efforts will be made to reduce the threat to our world from nuclear bombs and that we will continue to keep under review why we are making such significant decisions, which will have an impact into such a far-distant future—a future that will change in ways we cannot anticipate today. Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, I fully accept that, but our continued and very expensive possession of an independent deterrent will need a justification that, I believe, will need to be kept under continual review.
One line of political justification from successive Governments, from Attlee and Bevan down to the Blair years in particular, has been that the possession of deliverable nuclear weapons, however useless they might be in military practice, helps to keep us at the top table in global politics. I noted that in the Minister’s introductory speech, very little was made of that argument; I think he hinted at it at one point. But my question is whether that argument really has a future for us. Can the Minister confirm to what extent it is still a major factor in the thinking of the current Government that, in some sense, possessing our independent deterrent keeps us at the top table in political terms?
I very much agree with the closing comments of the right reverend Prelate that this enormous programme, which is of great significance for our country, should certainly be kept under continuous review. It has been the feature of the years of our deterrent and the changes made progressively over that time. I feel a certain nostalgia. I did the roll-out of one of the Vanguard submarines at Barrow-in-Furness and it is rather worrying to think that, if that is getting a bit too old and needs replacement, that might go for me as well.
If I were not here tonight I would be at the Sir Michael Quinlan memorial lecture, which is taking place this evening in the Foreign Office. There are many here in the Chamber tonight who knew him well. He was with me at the Ministry of Defence as an outstanding Permanent Secretary, but he was also known as the high priest of nuclear deterrence and was indeed credited, I believe, with writing out for Margaret Thatcher the moral case for nuclear weapons when she was looking for some reinforcement while under attack from—I observe the right reverend Prelate—certain Church leaders at the time. Michael Quinlan, as a keen Jesuit Catholic, produced the moral case for nuclear deterrence.
I was pleased to see that Michael Fallon, when speaking to the Policy Exchange a couple of months ago, quoted Michael Quinlan. He described him as the “great nuclear theorist” and former Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary. Michael said:
“No safer system … is yet in view … To tear down the present structure, imperfect but effective, before a better one is firmly within our grasp, would be an immensely dangerous and irresponsible act”.
I would certainly like to get rid of nuclear weapons. I do not enjoy the idea that we have to have the nuclear deterrent and the continuous at-sea deterrence, with the cost that it represents. Yes, one can make the argument that, spread over the totality of government expenditure, it is not a huge sum, but it is still by any standards a large sum of money. Michael Quinlan made it clear that he was not in favour of the nuclear deterrent at any price, but he said—this echoes the right reverend Prelate—that we should stop and think at each stage about the justification and whether changes would be appropriate.
I am very conscious of something that the right reverend Prelate has just been talking about: whether we have a safer world. The Minister, engaged in his marathon tonight of the Investigatory Powers Bill and this debate, made this point very clearly indeed. We never saw the end of the Cold War coming. We never saw the Arab spring. We never saw the rise of Daesh. We never saw the extent of the danger of the proliferation of nuclear materials around the world with the break-up of the Soviet Union—the nuclear materials stored in Kazakhstan and in Ukraine—and the fact that now, terrorists are seeking any way they can to get hold of nuclear material. This is now a very much more dangerous world. My noble friend the Minister referred to a more assertive Russia. If it intends to base nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad and the Crimea, that is a significant and worrying development. The number of failed states in the world at the moment represents a danger. The situation has changed a lot just in the past 10 years.
The programme we are looking at will not put something in place for the next five, seven, 10 years: we are talking about how far we can see ahead. The system we are talking about will give coverage and deterrence for the next 30 to 40 years. It is a long-term commitment. It is our ultimate insurance policy. Of course, it has happened at a rather interesting time with the recent Brexit. If we said that we were not going on with the deterrent, it would be extremely damaging to confidence in NATO, as my noble friend has said.
Some people think we could rely on the Americans to defend us. It is not unhelpful to the debate that we have a Republican candidate for the presidency who, if we had aggressors—perhaps the Russians overasserting themselves—and he was president, it would be very difficult to decide whether he would be prepared in certain circumstances to come to our assistance. That is only an illustration—I am sure he would—but it is an uncertainty we face.
Obviously, I would like to see every possible effort being made to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, as we have been doing continuously. There are other former Defence Secretaries here today and they will know that during their time in office, we were always looking to reduce the number of warheads. I am interested to see that only last year there was a further reduction from 48 to 40 warheads in each submarine. It certainly was progress going on in my time, and that has continued.
It is very relevant that we are having this debate today, so soon after the anniversary of the launch of the Battle of the Somme. One looks at the misery of two world wars, and the ultimate and total tragedy that affected so many places. We had those two great convulsions, and have gone 70 years without another. I was Secretary of State when the Berlin Wall came down. We had very interesting exchanges at that time. I talked to my Soviet opposite number and to some of the Soviet, and then Russian, generals, and there was no doubt that there were times when they thought they might advance and do a good bit of unification of Germany on their own. They knew that they could easily do it with conventional forces, but at the back of their minds was the ultimate risk of the nuclear deterrent. It is against that background, without any enjoyment of nuclear weapons or happiness at the cost, that I have no doubt that this is the right course to adopt: that we must continue with our policy of deterrence. It has been effective, kept the peace and avoided yet another world war. We, as a responsible nation, have a duty to continue to play our part.
My Lords, for almost four years, from 2002 to 2006, I was responsible directly to the Prime Minister for the safety, security and operational capability of the deterrent, so I know it intimately. As the noble Earl said, since 1968 the Royal Navy has maintained at least one ballistic missile submarine continuously undetected on patrol at sea 24 hours a day, every day of every year. It is a remarkable achievement that deserves the nation’s praise.
We are discussing today the replacement of our four Vanguard-class submarines to enable the Trident missile system to continue to provide continuous at-sea deterrence for the next few decades. The first decision is whether we wish to remain a nuclear weapon state or to opt for unilateral nuclear disarmament. If we decide we should maintain a deterrent, what is the most cost-effective weapons system?
We are in a highly dangerous and chaotic world that is becoming even more unstable. Indeed, it is the most unstable I have known in my 50 years on the active list of the Royal Navy. Our record as human beings in circumstances of intense competition has not been good, and I believe that keeping our armour bright, particularly those elements which provide assurance of our ultimate survival, is crucial. Many doubters seem unwilling to acknowledge the unforeseen shocks caused by imbalance of population and resources and the actions of opportunistic, possibly desperate, regimes. We seem pretty bad at predicting what will happen tomorrow. Indeed, who could have predicted 30 minutes ago that Boris would be our Foreign Secretary? So no one can predict whether in the next 50 years there may be nations prepared to use nuclear weapons. What is certain is that their use is unlikely if that use means self-destruction. It would be foolhardy for any British Government of whatever hue to make us vulnerable to nuclear blackmail by giving up the power to retaliate.
Unilateralists often ask why, in that case, countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia and Japan do not need the deterrent. That fact has no bearing on our decision. The reasons are historical, such as the cost of starting from scratch, alliances, and satisfaction with others’ nuclear umbrella. Suffice it to say that all permanent members of the Security Council possess nuclear weapons, as do an ever-expanding number of other countries. Opponents also state that it will not stop terrorists. Of course it will not. It is not meant to and no such claim has ever been made for it.
As a number of noble Lords have said, we have led the world in reducing the number of nuclear weapons systems—we have only one, unlike any of the other permanent members of the Security Council—and the number of warheads. Has that reduction had any discernible impact, particularly on those states we would hope to discourage from owning nuclear weapons or expanding their number? No, it has not. We would certainly not be part of any negotiations on multilateral arms reductions—which all of us want—should we cease being a nuclear weapon state.
I have no doubt that we should remain a nuclear power. Unilateral disarmament would endanger our nation and our people and it is not what most UK citizens want. But what system should we use? Study after study has shown conclusively that the cheapest, most cost-effective option is to maintain the present Trident ballistic missile system. This necessitates the replacement of the Vanguard-class submarines. As the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, said, the last study was the Trident alternative review, which was instigated by the Lib Dems. Much to the surprise of many of those who instigated it, it concluded that we should replace the Trident submarines. Every study has always said that. Having looked at other options in detail, it is quite clear—and I have been involved with three previous such studies—that none of them is as cheap or practical as their supporters claim, certainly not cruise missiles; I could give you a 100 reasons why not to go down that route.
Let us face it, none of our nuclear submarines has ever been counter-detected. They are so quiet and undetectable, one of them bumped into a French one without knowing it, and the French one did not know what it had bumped into. The very invulnerability of the submarine to detection now and in the future, notwithstanding claims to the contrary by unqualified people with no knowledge of the oceans or anti-submarine warfare, and the assuredness of warhead delivery, make it the ultimate post-strike system. We need a post-strike system. I could go into that for hours but I will not.
There has been considerable debate about the need for a submarine to be permanently deployed—this is what CASD is: continuous at-sea deterrence—and hence the need for four submarines. There is no doubt that such a deployment makes the force invulnerable to pre-emptive strike. We live in a world where the enemy has an option and people do nasty things—we forget that. It also avoids the risk of escalating a crisis by sailing a submarine in times of tension, which makes that submarine more vulnerable. When one adds the efficiency and readiness of the crew by being deployed, it is hardly surprising that study after study has shown the need for continuous at-sea deterrence.
Another concern expressed by detractors is that the system is not truly independent. In 2009, as Security Minister, I was asked by the Prime Minister to conduct a detailed and comprehensive investigation. I can assure the House and the nation that it is totally independent of the US. Although cheaper than most alternative options, the replacement of four Vanguard-class submarines is expensive. All defence systems are expensive. The cost has already been mentioned: 0.13% of GDP for our ultimate insurance policy. This seems pretty reasonable when one thinks of what one pays for one’s car and house as a percentage of one’s income. The cries from a few military figures that dropping the deterrent will release funds for conventional forces is totally delusional. I have spent many years in Whitehall and clearly those involved do not understand the Whitehall jungle.
I have little doubt that those who are attacking the Trident capability—in the context of cyberattack and drones—are actually closet unilateralists. They ought to be honest about this, because there is no doubt that Trident is the best system to go for if we wish to remain in the game. If they want to be unilateralists, that is perfectly respectable but they should say that and not try to do it through the back door.
An additional point—not a driving factor but I think it is quite important for the nation—is that the replacement of the submarines will ensure that 12,000-plus engineers, scientists and designers are directly employed for the next 25 years, plus a number of ancillary occupations. What does worry me is the seeming delay in setting up the new delivery authority that the Government have referred to. When will it be stood up? Have the US Government been consulted? Will it require primary legislation? Have the Government identified the man who should be responsible directly to the Prime Minister for delivering this complex programme, which is so crucial to the security of our nation? We need one man who is responsible for it to the Prime Minister to make things happen, because you can chop off his head if he gets it wrong. These things are a matter of urgency. Our Vanguard-class submarines are already going to be extremely old when replaced.
The case for maintaining our minimum credible deterrent by replacing the ageing Vanguard-class submarines with Successor is compelling, and there is no doubt that if we wish to remain a nuclear power, the replacement of the V-class is the only sensible option. For the safety and security of our people and our nation, we should remain a nuclear power. It is unsurprising that that is the Labour Party’s manifesto commitment and Labour policy—and that is what it is.
My Lords, as time is short, I do not propose to say anything about the possession and deployment of Trident, which in the current party-political scene seems something of a given anyway. I have always been, and remain, a multilateralist but admit to having been influenced in my thinking by something that my late boss, Field Marshal Lord Carver, said during the discussions about the possible improvement of Polaris by Chevaline in 1972: “There are two definitions of the word affordable—can you afford something or can you afford to give up what you have got to give up in order to afford it?”.
I note that this debate is a precursor to the vote on Monday in the other place on the like-for-like renewal of the full fleet of four nuclear submarines, described in the 2015 SDSR as,
“vital to our national security … needed, in order to give assurance that at least one will always be at sea, undetected, on a Continuous At Sea Deterrent patrol”,
“a national endeavour … one of the largest government investment programmes, equivalent in scale to Crossrail or High Speed 2”.
The SDSR maintained that the estimated cost of £31 billion, plus a contingency of £10 billion, could be found from the guaranteed 2% of GDP. But all that has changed in the past two weeks, because following the Brexit vote the value of the pound has dropped dramatically, which will lead inevitably to a drop in GDP, and has led already to doubts being raised about the affordability of High Speed 2.
That brings me on to two questionable assertions in the 24 March MoD policy paper, UK Nuclear Deterrence: What You Need to Know, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. The first is:
“The UK has policies and capabilities to deal with the wide range of threats we currently face or might face in the future”.
The second is:
“The investment required to maintain our deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities our armed forces need”.
Two of the main planks of the Leave campaign during the referendum were that we would regain control over our borders and, therefore, independence—whatever that means. Really? With three Border Force vessels and the limited number of Royal Navy surface ships to which the noble Lord, Lord West, continually draws the attention of the House? I must admit that I wondered who was deluding whom when I heard the Minister announce on Monday that we were sending two companies to Estonia and one to Poland. How on earth can anyone know what threats demanding a lesser response than a weapon system capable of taking out Moscow we may face in the future?
If lack of sufficient financial resources, based on 2% of GDP at the time that the SDSR was written, has already limited the strength of our conventional forces, as has been pointed out many times by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig and others, how can anyone be certain that a reduced GDP will not require even further limitation if full fleet replacement is the Government’s order of the day?
That brings me to governance. Starting at the bottom end, as it were, I have lost count of the number of times noble Lords have, in recent years, complained about the lack of proper impact assessments accompanying legislation. With the notable exception of the Canadian Governor of the Bank of England, no one appears to have done any contingency planning on the referendum, or bothered to research just how deeply our pipes and plumbing are buried into Europe in a multiplicity of subjects. Last week came Chilcot, with its devastating exposure of the deliberate disregard of the norms of governance during the Iraq war. Now, the other place is expected to make a decision that will affect the nation’s military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear, without the benefit of any known assessment of what the financial impact of Brexit will be.
I acknowledge all the responsibilities on government that were so clearly enunciated by the Minister, but I find the speed of all this both breathtaking and bewildering. Where is the proof that this decision needs to be taken on Monday, bearing in mind the continuing uncertainty over the date by which the submarines need to be replaced and the spiralling costs of doing so? Meanwhile, we are faced with a number of threats to our security, now and in the future, for which we require conventional capabilities that we do not currently possess, and the availability of which is bound to be affected if the defence budget is expected to meet the cost of like-for-like replacement.
Because the retention of the nuclear deterrent is a political decision, I should like to ask the incoming Prime Minister two questions through the Minister before Monday’s debate. First, will she consider removing the cost of the deterrent from the defence budget, so that the 2% of GDP can be spent on maintaining viable conventional forces? Secondly, how certain is she that we can afford to give up so much of our required conventional capability to afford like-for-like replacement of our current nuclear deterrent fleet?
While I reach the same conclusion as the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, I am afraid I do so without any of his certainty and with none of his panache, for which I must apologise, because I share the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I must begin by paying tribute to the Minister for his stamina—he is clearly a young man—and I should draw the attention of the House to my interests, as set out in the register, particularly in relation to Thales and Babcock.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, on one point—on many points, in fact—about the achievement of the Atomic Weapons Establishment and our Armed Forces in maintaining a continuous at-sea deterrent for so many decades. However, outside this House, people are protesting and demanding an absence of nuclear weapons in the world. That is something that we will of course be able to reach only gradually, if we can reach it at all, but a step along that road would be a valuable one to take.
I hope the Minister will say more about the cost of Trident, because £31 billion plus £10 billion in contingency is quite a lot more than it was suggested in 2007 the cost would be. CND’s estimate of the cost as £200 billion is something I discount, but I suspect the cost will go up as the years pass.
There is one expression I would like the House to reconsider, which is describing the nuclear deterrent as an insurance policy. The point of a nuclear deterrent is that if they bomb us, we will bomb them. That is unlike any insurance policy I have ever come across. If someone burns down my house, I do not go and burn down theirs. This nuclear deterrent is rather more like a booby trap: if they bomb us, something very nasty will go off in their back yard. It relies on the principle of retaliation. In law—long ago, I used to practise law—retaliation, as such, is illegal. I suppose that once we get to the point of nuclear exchange, the question of what is and is not legal will become of little interest in people’s minds.
I hope that one point that has not yet been mentioned in this debate will be taken into account, which is that we propose to base the nuclear weapons we have for the foreseeable future—for decades—in Scotland. As I understand it, only one—maybe two—of the Members of Parliament coming from Scotland would support this nuclear deterrent. That will have to be handled with great sensitivity in the years ahead, otherwise we will run the risk of weakening the ties of the union, which have already been damaged severely by the Brexit vote.
Despite all these points against nuclear deterrence, there is one that trumps every other argument—I hope that is the last time I use that word in this House—which is Roosevelt’s comment:
“Speak softly and carry a big stick”.
That is what, at the end of the day, discourages war. Strength discourages war, and I therefore have come down in favour of the Government’s proposal. With considerable reluctance, I have come to the view that we should keep the nuclear deterrent we have. It must be a deterrent that works, which means four boats.
Clearly, it will not work against all the threats that we face—of course it will not. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester was right to say that it has no consequence in relation to terrorism, but it was not intended to. It is also true that our cyber vulnerabilities pose existential threats to the western way of life. This is a matter of opinion, but in my view our nuclear deterrent has helped—only helped—to keep the peace over many decades. I do not think now, when the world is incredibly unstable, is the time for an experiment in unilateralism.
My Lords, first, I declare an indirect interest, as recorded in the register of interests.
The Government have had six years to prepare for this debate and for the vote that will take place in the Commons on Monday. This is one of the most important decisions that will be taken by our generation of politicians. The continuation of the nuclear deterrent is fundamental—fundamental—to the safety of this nation and to our contribution to the strength of NATO and the Atlantic alliance, and the security umbrella that creates. It is therefore a scandal and a disgrace that we in the upper House of this Parliament are being given three hours for this debate—six minutes per Member—at two days’ notice to consider whether the United Kingdom is to go ahead with the Trident nuclear deterrent.
It is of course widely known, especially by those of us who were charged with some responsibility for it, that the deterrent exists not as a military weapon but as a political one, whose very purpose is for it never to be used in anger. It is there to deter aggression against this country and our allies and to counter nuclear blackmail that would threaten Britain’s essential interests and those of our allies. It is committed to NATO and, along with the French and American deterrents, plays a crucial and successful part in the defence of the alliance. In the ludicrously limited time that we have, I intend to make three points.
First, as other noble Lords have said, we cannot possibly foresee the threats and challenges to our security that will emerge over the next 40 years when Trident will be in service. As has been said, we find it remarkably difficult to predict what will happen day by day just now. Just look at what has happened, and taken us by surprise, over my political life: the invasion of the Falklands, the invasion of Kuwait, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Europe, 9/11 and the Arab spring. Those are just a few instances to prove that unexpected events can trigger very serious consequences. It would be recklessly optimistic to abandon our deterrent on a very rosy view of what we think we face at the moment. It would do a grave disservice to generations to come, as yet unborn.
Secondly, we need to face the serious fact that if we abandon the building of the four new submarines, there is no going back. If the security environment were to change and become even more malign than it is today, it would be simply impossible to recreate the deterrent, with all its infrastructure. The decision next Monday, therefore, is crucial.
Thirdly, there is no cheap and cheerful alternative to continuous at-sea deterrence; there are no half measures in nuclear deterrence. Continuous at-sea deterrence is an absolute. Our submarines are invisible, invulnerable and undetectable. The 2013 Trident Alternatives Review, already referred to, which was insisted on by the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition Government and reported to the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary, clearly said:
“The highest level of assurance the UK can attain with a single deterrent system is provided by SSBN submarines operating a continuous at sea deterrence posture”.
That was not the only report. The following year, the British American Security Information Council—BASIC, an organisation opposed to Trident renewal—set up its own commission. It concluded:
“The Trident SSBN … system meets the criteria of credibility, scale, survivability, reach and readiness”.
It also said that successive British Governments,
“have not considered it prudent to disarm the UK’s nuclear arsenal given the nuclear danger that could yet resurface, and given the limited benefit to reducing global nuclear dangers that such a step would have. We agree”.
I started my life in politics as a young man carrying a banner that said “Ban the Bomb”—and was eventually to become Secretary of State for Defence, in charge of the nuclear deterrent. As Defence Secretary I conducted a defence review, which abandoned all our tactical nuclear weapons, reduced significantly our arsenal of warheads and missiles for submarines, lowered the system’s operational readiness and made new inroads into the transparency of the whole system. In my “Ban the Bomb” days I believed that such a move would start a benign response worldwide. No such luck. Others are inventing, acquiring, modernising and accumulating nuclear weapons all the time. That is precisely why we need to go ahead with the four new submarines.
My Lords, having appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary and confirmed the continuation in office of Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary, our new Prime Minister moves on to the awesome responsibility of having to write the four letters to the commanders of our Vanguard submarines, with certain instructions. The UK has had a continuous at-sea deterrent for nearly 50 years, since 1969. Like others, I personally have found this issue agonisingly difficult. It is difficult to imagine the circumstances in which we would press the nuclear button. If we were not already a nuclear power, I am sure we would not vote to become one today.
But we are a nuclear power, albeit possessing less than 1% of the world’s 17,000 nuclear weapons. We cannot disinvent nuclear technology. Like it or not, behaving like an ostrich is not an option. Like the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, I do not believe that the UK giving up nuclear capability or ambitions would influence others. Some of us hoped that, perhaps in the medium to longer term, we might have been able to reach an accommodation with the French in terms of shared capability. But sadly, post Brexit, that prospect is probably even more remote.
Over the years my party has looked for some middle way—a compromise position and, we hoped, a cheaper position. A three-boat fleet has been suggested, or arming our submarines only at a time of increased international tension. I have to say that, however good their intentions, both options are wholly unrealistic. We live in a very dangerous and unpredictable world with some very dangerous and ruthless leaders. As has been said, who can possibly foretell what lies ahead over the next 40 years?
On issues such as Trident, one has to transcend party politics. We in this House have to speak and act in the national interest for this and future generations. In my view, costs are secondary considerations, and 6% of the defence budget is not unreasonable for what is obviously the ultimate deterrent. On balance, and desperately hoping that we never have to use this horrific weaponry, I support the Government’s position to maintain a four-boat, continuous at-sea capability through the successor programme.
My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity to support the Government tonight. There is no doubt in my mind that we are doing the right thing to future-proof the protection of our nation and underpin our commitment to NATO. As a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, I confirm its full support for the deterrent element of SDSR 2015. It is right that the SDSR makes clear that we are committed to maintaining the minimum amount of destructive power needed to deter an aggressor, to stress the need to avoid vulnerability, and to keep our nuclear posture under constant review in the light of the international security environment and the actions of potential adversaries.
My noble friend Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom referred to those now demonstrating outside against nuclear weapons. It is crucial that we explain clearly and often why this deterrent is critical. We must communicate our purpose. We cannot presume that each generation will grow up accepting the why without explanation and understanding of what Trident really means and the potential consequences of compromising our commitment to a continuous-at-sea deterrent patrol.
We parliamentarians have the enormous advantage of understanding what Trident means in practice through our access to the Armed Forces. Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde and, in particular, Faslane, where I spent time on board one of our Vanguard-class submarines, the youngest and recently refuelled HMS “Vengeance”. In addition, I was allowed unusual access to the high-security establishment the Royal Naval Armaments Depot Coulport, so I have the clear advantage of witnessing for myself what we have been doing quietly with extraordinary rigour and care, supported by the Royal Marines, since 1969.
In March this year, I was lucky enough to spend several days in the company of 45 Commando in the Arctic Circle learning about the extraordinary training and exercises undertaken by both our Armed Forces and those of our NATO allies, including the US Marines, also on exercise in the far north of Norway, in recognition of our now very fragile relationship with Russia.
As my right honourable friend David Cameron said in another place only a few days ago, we are not seeking confrontation with Russia, we are working to prevent it. Our nuclear deterrent is at the heart of that prevent strategy in what is—as my noble friend said—an increasingly dangerous world.
There is always the question of cost, and the Trident Alternatives Review, referred to this evening, undertaken at the request of the Liberal Democrats and published in July 2013, is instructive. The review confirmed that possible alternatives to its successor would, as outlined by my noble friend, actually prove more expensive than what is now proposed. Following publication of the review, I note that my right honourable friend Liam Fox reminded the Liberal Democrats in another place—at the time, they were keen to end CASD and procure one fewer successor submarines on the basis that it would make a saving of £4 billion—that this so-called saving was equivalent to two weeks’ spending on the NHS or six days of what we spend on public sector pensions and welfare.
Concerns remain, of course, regarding the defence budget. The recently published House of Commons Defence Committee report Shifting the Goalposts?—Defence Expenditure and the 2% Pledge, the second report of Session 2015-16, confirms the real pressures on the defence budget. I suggest that another goalpost be reviewed. In this regard, I was rather taken by a question asked by noble friend Lord Vinson in response to the Statement on the NATO Warsaw summit on 11 July, when he said that our defence budget was strapped for cash while we are simultaneously giving substantial aid to support the economies and welfare of countries, such as Poland and Finland.
In essence, I ask my noble friend the Minister, whether it is not now time to seriously and sensibly revisit the current DfID target of 0.7% of gross national income—particularly in the light of the short-to-medium term fragility of our economy post-Brexit—and transfer some of that budget to defence? It may be more important than the target. Should we not question our priorities? I know where mine firmly lie and that is with our defence capability and the welfare of our Armed Forces. Aid is of course very important. However, it should be supplementary to what our previous Prime Minister, during his resignation speech only three hours go, called the “spirit of service” of our Armed Forces in their endeavours to keep our nation safe.
My Lords, my interests are declared in the register. I start by saying how much one appreciates the approach of and opening address by my noble friend the Minister. At the end of last year the noble Earl kindly arranged an important briefing at the Ministry of Defence. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, asked for a specific briefing on key aspects of the Astute and Vanguard submarine programmes. All present strongly told the Minister, the honourable Philip Dunne, that it was highly desirable for Parliament to formally give the go-ahead in February, time being of the essence. We are now in July.
Today, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach took over the key role of Chief of the Defence Staff. It is of great importance, following Brexit and the Chilcot report, that the Ministry of Defence, the CDS and his chiefs have total clarity with regard to their role and responsibilities in the decision-making process when considering the use of military power. Trident is a crucial part of this country’s defence capability and, of course, our NATO role. As the ultimate deterrent it is so devastating in its power that one hopes it never has to be used. But it is there.
In the light of recent defence reviews—in 2010 and 2014—have we really given our service chiefs the tools to carry out the key responsibility of both defending the realm and, when necessary, intervening globally when it proves essential? In the main, this would be in our NATO role. In the defence debate following the Queen’s Speech in late 2014, I commented on her words, “We must re-engage globally”. Without doubt, in the previous five years the international community perceived us as having disengaged. We were encouraged by the 2% commitment and the clarity of an agreed programme for all three services, but I and many others in this House and the other place have expressed deep concern that not only is the 2% already slipping back, but there is still further hollowing out taking place in all three services. The money vitally needed to truly deliver the programme will really start to flow only in two or three years. Indeed, the weakening of sterling must not be used as an excuse to delay our key purchases from the United States—that is, the F35s and the P8s. I would appreciate it if the Minister would consider supporting that observation and the comment, which I shall come to, that we should increase the 2% to 3%.
Now is the time to build the infrastructure and, most importantly, to get the right personnel in place to meet the full programme. As I said, we will not reach true capability until 2030 and, on the Trident front, the 2040s. Only a small number of workhorse frigates are likely to be in service in the early 2020s. The admiral, the noble Lord, Lord West, who, if I may, I will also describe as a friend, has often reminded this House about the need to have those frigates in place in the 2020s.
Recent history has surely taught us that we cannot hope that events will wait for us. That would be a most foolhardy and dangerous strategy. In last week’s referendum debate, I strongly supported Sir Christopher Meyer’s view, expressed at a very recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee, that our defence commitment should be increased from 2% to 3%, properly ring-fenced, with cash to be released immediately. We should seriously consider—as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has already referred to—repealing the law enshrining the 0.7% for the Department for International Development’s budget. Of course it must continue its vital work in helping refugees in unexpected disasters, and in many cases our armed services and DfID work together. However, part of its present £13 billion to £16 billion a year could then be used to enhance both the defence budget and that of the foreign service.
I reiterate: moving forward once again to have a real global responsibility for protecting the free movement of world trade will require a considerable enhancement of our hard-power capability, particularly that of the Royal Navy, which has had this responsibility for nearly 400 years. Further cutbacks would really confirm to the world at large our being Little Englanders. I suggest that when we are negotiating with Brussels, it will be an unspoken plus that this strength will always be available, when necessary, to help our European friends.
From yesterday’s Chilcot debate it was clear that much has been learned, but my deep concern is that these findings will affect the manner in which decisions are made as to when and where our military capability will be used. Will the House of Commons always demand the right to have the final word? One is increasingly told that military action should be the last resort. I suggest that sometimes the very rapid deployment that only the military can deliver can be the best option and in itself be the very deterrent to prevent conflict. Indeed, if in future there will be an interminable debate in Parliament, particularly if Mr Corbyn continues to lead the Opposition, we must rapidly resolve the decision process that clearly identifies the authority of the commander-in-chief and Parliament. As a matter of interest, the United States is in exactly the same position.
The aspects regarding the use of the deterrent, and the background to the need for it, has been put much more ably than I could by the noble Lord, Lord West, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. However, I suggest that if we had this problem of identifying who was to make the decision, it would certainly be a comfort to know that one of our ballistic Vanguard submarines was at sea night and day with, if I may say so, some of the most elite crews in the whole of our military service.
We should very much consider what all this will do for us from the point of view of sovereign areas. It is absolutely necessary to have the economic benefits of the leading-edge technologies in this country. One example of what is needed is a definite, long-term energy policy, which we do not have. We must also have a long-term strategy for warship development in this country. This can only enhance the leading-edge technologies.
It is interesting to note that democracies take a long time to agree politically on their strategic needs. Other than in time of war, the delivery of such strategies is often heavily delayed by being throttled by budgetary considerations. It is worth noting that both Russia and China’s delivery capabilities are clearly superior.
I want to return to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Until 2010, the capital cost of our nuclear deterrent was carried by the Treasury. It was put on the Ministry of Defence’s account only some five or six years ago. That was the thinking going back over nearly 40 years. It is an aspect that should be taken strongly into account.
During the five years I spent on the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, we came to the view that it was a necessary institution which still had to decide the most effective way to operate. I believe that the right combination of brain power, under our National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, should be more than able to deal with many of the concerns aired in this House. The National Security Council was key in deciding that this country must have the Trident replacement programme.
Many Peers on all sides of this House are highly supportive of the dedication of our Armed Forces. I hope they would agree that the Commonwealth in general, our allies in NATO and, in particular, our many friends in Europe and internationally, welcome such action by the United Kingdom. For us to continue as a permanent member of the Security Council is of key importance. I strongly support the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Howe.
My Lords, back in the mid-1970s, when we had such people in government, I was the Minister responsible for the Navy. I should like to take the opportunity of this debate to put on record how, even then, in the much earlier years of nuclear submarines, I formed the highest respect for the professionalism and dedication of those who were manning those submarines. When we remember the ensuing years, we owe those people a great tribute.
The noble Lord, Lord King, reminded us that we have just been commemorating the Battle of the Somme. We have also just been remembering Hiroshima and what it meant in terms of human destruction and suffering. At that time, those who took their challenges seriously—as with the challenges of 1945—saw for the first time the evidence of the concentration camps in Europe. That is why they dedicated themselves to building institutions which would enable us to have a world in which those things could never happen again. The United Nations was one, NATO was another—look what it has achieved on our own doorstep over all those years—and there were others as well. A few years later, we began to realise that if we were to have a peaceful world, we would need to take our contribution to that world seriously, which is why we began to build into our system of government overseas development as a priority. The Government deserve congratulations on the way they have pursued that with rigour and determination.
I admire President Obama for many things, but one of them is that he keeps reminding us that we must not stop dreaming of a world without nuclear weapons. In this kind of debate I always worry a little that we are settling almost as an end in itself for a way of managing the realities of the situation we have rather than saying, “How can we still, in spite of all the difficulties, keep striving for a different kind of world?”. Historians 100 or 200 years hence may have a lot to say about a time when we settled for saying that the only way we could keep existing with any self-assurance was by mutual threat of mutual annihilation. That is not a very satisfactory comment on the advance of human society. However, that is the case, and we have to live with the reality that the United States has been a great partner with us in our enterprises, but Russia is there—and in a form we would prefer it were not—as is North Korea. China is becoming increasingly powerful, and there are others.
We cannot push these things away—they are there. Therefore, in the future that confronts us we have to have a means by which it becomes unthinkable for Governments of other countries to consider deploying nuclear weapons because of the consequences for them. I am not happy about that—I am extremely unhappy that we have to settle for this situation, but that is the reality of the situation which confronts us.
Finally, I am glad that one of the things that has been raised in this debate—would that it had not been necessary to do so—is the issue of terrorism. That is another reality with which we will have to live for a long time. We have to be absolutely certain that with our defence system and defence budget we produce systems that are relevant to the threat of terrorism. I am concerned in this situation in which such a high proportion of the defence budget is spent on the renewal of the deterrent when we know—Chilcot said it—that our forces are overstretched and are not properly equipped in the real situations which we meet every day. The issue of renewing our deterrent therefore raises immense questions about how far we are properly financing the rest of the defence budget. However, it also means that we have to be very certain that the deterrent in the form in which we are pursuing it will be the most effective protection in the years ahead.
That is why my noble friend Lord Robertson was absolutely right: it is disgraceful that we are having this debate late in the evening, with six minutes—I am afraid that I am already on seven—to speak on an issue which the Minister himself thinks is profoundly important. There are masses of implications involved in this decision. We should have had a White Paper and proper evidence put before us. How far have the Government really thought through the dangers for our nuclear maritime defence future, because a lot of serious people are questioning whether it will be quite as secure and immune as it should be? Those arguments may well be being answered but not with proper information made available as well as evidence of the Government’s consideration. It really is disgraceful that we are having this debate in this form tonight.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Howe for moving that this House takes note of the Government’s assessment in the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 that the United Kingdom’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent should be maintained. I agree 100% and I support the Government in this.
We must build the replacements we need. It is a pity that we only have a BAE yard to construct them in—no competition there, and we all know what that means: up go the costs. I urge a rethink of the alternatives. We should not find ourselves with one place and one company to do this work but ask what they are, especially when Mr Putin in Russia is constructing at least eight new ballistic missile submarines—and everything else he fancies at the same time.
We are vulnerable as an island people and our ports are essential to us. I come from a port—Plymouth—and now live in London, which has another port. I was the deputy chairman of the Port of London Authority for seven years, so ports are what I want to stress. I urge the Minister to consider their safety and vigilance.
Ninety-five per cent of everything that enters or leaves the United Kingdom does so by sea, including most of our food. We could not feed ourselves during the last war when we were 44 million people; we are now 65 million and growing—our ports are our lifelines. We are totally dependent upon imports of oil and gas, 36% of which come into one port, Milford Haven—unprotected. It is therefore essential to keep the sea lanes to the UK open and that also means protecting the approaches to our ports. Our submarine nuclear deterrent is essential as Russia rearms. The puzzle for it, I hope, will to never be sure whether we are going to use the things that we are agreeing to put into action.
Our new aircraft carriers will provide a very visible influence but we, as an island nation, cannot rely on them alone to protect our sea lanes and ports. I believe that the Navy has to have a balanced fleet. We will need more patrol boats to patrol our fishing areas after Brexit—Ireland needs eight and Norway needs 16; I do not know how many we will need but I noticed today that the French are already squealing that all the fish are in our waters and want to know what to do about that. Four to five patrol boats are being built already but the current plan is to decommission four when the new ones arrive. That is not the way to protect our fishing fleets. One of those boats is permanently based in the Falklands because we do not have enough destroyers and frigates to deploy something more powerful and deterring to that area.
We are an island nation surrounded by the sea and if we do not control it we will be lost. Just look at the problems around the world requiring sea power for their resolution: the problem in the South China Sea is an example of where a lack of sea power has made the Philippines vulnerable to Chinese expansion. These are things which we must consider further.
I want to finish by quoting some words of ex-Prime Minister David Cameron at the NATO summit in Warsaw in July. He said that,
“this summit has underlined one very important message—that while Britain may be leaving the European Union, we are not withdrawing from the world, nor are we turning our back on Europe or on European security … We will continue to be an outward-looking nation that stands up for our values around the world—the only major country in the world to spend 2% of our GDP on defence, as promised, and 0.7% of our GDP on overseas aid, as promised. Only Britain, amongst the major countries, has kept those 2 vital pledges. And they massively enhance our standing and our ability to get things done in the world and our ability to keep people safe at home … We are a country that is willing to deploy its troops to reassure our Eastern partners or to help countries further away defeat terrorists … A country with the ultimate deterrent. And above all, a proud, strong United Kingdom that will keep working with our allies to advance the security of our nation and people for generations to come”.
My Lords, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the interests that I have declared in the Register of Lords’ Interests. I act in the UK as an adviser to Lockheed Martin.
I agreed with every word and sentiment in what the Minister said. His speech could have been made by any Defence Minister any time during the past 50 years—in fact, it almost certainly has been—but he was absolutely right in the arguments that he put forward.
Nuclear weapons are terrifying and terrible weapons, but they have served a moral purpose, which is to deter nuclear aggression—these unique threats to the UK and our allies that cannot be controlled by any other means. The nuclear deterrent has been a moral weapons system.
One issue that the other place will face next week is simply this: is there an alternative? Is there a better way of guaranteeing UK security during the next 50 or 60 years? There are some who argue for unilateralism. I do not subscribe to that view, and I suspect that very few people in this House do. It would be an irresponsible act which compromised UK national security and that of our friends and allies around the world. It would deprive the UK of leverage and locus in any bilateral and multilateral process. It would be a complete abdication of our international responsibilities.
The question then is: are there some other alternatives to Trident that might fulfil a similar role and do it as well and as credibly? I pay tribute to the last coalition Government and to the work of the Liberal Democrat Ministers in persuading the Government to conduct the alternatives to Trident review. If anyone really wants to find an answer to some of these complicated issues of whether there is a better or cheaper way to maintain the vital national security interest of the United Kingdom, they must read that review. Unpalatable reading though it might be to some, there is absolutely no doubt about the fundamental conclusions: that a four-boat successor programme is the cheapest, most credible way to maintain our national security and that all the other options—whether they are free-fall bombs to be fired or launched from fast jets or include the use of cruise missiles, be they subsonic or supersonic—carry considerable downsides. First, they will be a less credible deterrent; secondly, and strangely, they will be significantly more expensive, because the real cost driver is the development of a new warhead to tip any new delivery system. Certainly, if it is a cruise missile system that advocates are putting forward, we know that we would certainly need more submarines and there would be a significant cost. There is no better way of securing Britain’s long-term national defence interests than by renewing the Vanguard submarine. So I say unequivocally that that is the right thing to do and I hope that Members in the other place reach a similar conclusion.
I want to finish with three points. First, my noble friend Lord West and others referred to the extraordinary service that the crews of the ballistic submarines have rendered in the past 50 years. My noble friend said that we should express our praise for them; I think that we should do more than that. This weapons system is uniquely complicated. I remember when I was on board one of the submarines being told by the skipper, when I asked him how on earth he kept this level of professionalism going, “Sir, when we leave port, we are at war. That is the only way we can do it”. I think that makes this aspect of service in the Armed Forces quite unique and special. I hope there is a way, despite all the bureaucracy and the rules, that those men who have served and operated these submarines for 50 years get special treatment. I would like to see a special medal awarded for service in these ballistic submarines. It is long overdue and it would be a service that we could render to those great men.
Secondly, it will be very important that Ministers do more to address the concerns that have been raised about the vulnerability or detectability of the Successor boats. Many of your Lordships speaking in this debate have already addressed this point. I really believe there is more that Ministers should be doing to address the concerns raised. I share the view that those who advocate this may be concealing other motives; I do not really want to get into that. But anyone who looks at the scientific and technical literature will know immediately that there are no parallels to be drawn between unmanned aerial vehicles and the development of those sorts of drones and unmanned underwater vehicles. The two operate in completely different technical and scientific backgrounds. For example, electromagnetic waves cannot operate underwater—they can penetrate only a few inches at best—there are massive problems about powering those systems so that they can deploy sonar buoys and other devices; and there is a huge problem about communications. There is no immediate risk, I think, to our Vanguard submarines now or in the future, but a lot of people think there is, and that should be addressed.
Finally, I want to ask the Minister one question. We would all like to live in a world free of nuclear weapons; let us be quite clear. The process for achieving that looks difficult. There is one thing that the Government could do. Because this is still a live issue, I would like to know what concrete and practical steps the Minister is intending to take to the new Government now to make sure that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty becomes a legal instrument and takes legal effect. At the moment, there is a de facto moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons, but can anyone imagine the shock waves that would be created—literally—if one of the superpowers were to actually detonate a test weapon? This would be the end of most of the legal framework that we are familiar with and which gives us some encouragement that we might be heading in the right direction over the longer term. So what are the Government going to do to address the fact that, despite all these years since the treaty came into operation, it has still not taken any legal effect?
My Lords, during the 1980s in particular, I wrote, lectured and spoke extensively in support of a policy of nuclear deterrence—helped hugely, as so many were, by the late, lamented Sir Michael Quinlan, whose memorial lecture I, like others, should have attended this evening. I tried to think through traditional jus in bello criteria in relation to the special characteristic of nuclear weapons in the context of the Cold War. With much spiritual fear and moral trembling, I argued that a policy of deterrence was compatible with Christian conscience. But hearing the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, refer to nuclear weapons as a political weapon, I have to remind myself that he knows much better than I do that they remain weapons, and for deterrence to be credible the enemy must think there are occasions when they could be used, which means that we actually have to have a targeting policy that is rational, credible and operates within ethical boundaries. We should remind ourselves that we are talking about weapons which might have to be used, and I was prepared to defend that. But we need to ask rigorously whether what was necessary at that time is still the case, or whether the modern context is so different that we really need to rethink the whole issue of Trident.
First, of course, at that time we were faced with the Soviet Union, a ruthless totalitarian state, but one organised as a state with a government and a recognisable command and control system. The main enemy now, as we know, is not a state: it is a variety of terrorist organisations which can overtake territory—as they did in Afghanistan—and the entity known as Daesh, but which, for the most part, operate clandestinely. Their objective is to arouse terror among people hostile to their purpose with random explosives and suicide bombs. They operate in cells, not for the most part in states as such.
The nature of the adversary and the methods used are totally different from the situation during the Cold War. The adversary then, however ruthless, was rational, and that is why deterrence worked. For the first time in human history it could not conceivably have been in the interests of either side to have had a direct confrontation, and since both sides were capable of rational calculation, they knew that, and we had a nuclear stalemate. The enemy today is not interested in rational calculation. Terrorist cells faced with the threat of nuclear weapons would have a bunker mentality. They would not be deterred from what they were planning by anything that we might threaten. So we have to ask whether the continual possession of Trident is really serving any rational purpose in the particular circumstances of our time, where the main threat comes from terrorist groups.
There arises the question of whether we still have an assured second strike capability, the long-stop of our nuclear policy. With the rapid development of cyber warfare and other technologies, it is not realistic to think that submarines can remain in the ocean undetected for ever. The noble Lord, Lord West, has assured the House both this evening and on many other occasions that when at sea, our nuclear submarines cannot be detected by any developments in cyber warfare. I am simply not so sanguine that some new other technology will not be discovered that can render them vulnerable. I do not believe that they can remain invulnerable for ever. Whatever their command and control system, it is in principle open to being discovered and degraded by advancing technologies. The noble Lord, Lord West, knows the bottom of the ocean a great deal better than I do, but I suggest to him that the whole of history and development of modern science goes against what he says. Nothing stands still, and I predict that within a decade or two, technological developments will render nuclear weapons obsolete—if not worse.
It is true that we live in a notoriously uncertain and unpredictable world in which malignant forces will continue to operate. It is, as a number of noble Lords have emphasised, an extremely dangerous world. A resurgent Russia has modernised its nuclear weapons. Perhaps that does support the case for retaining a deterrent of some kind as part of a NATO strategy for the time being, but we know that the present life of our nuclear fleet has some 18 years still to go. We have been assured a number of times in the debate that all the reports show that no alternative is cheaper or better, but I am sorry that we have not heard more about this. Last night I was speaking to one of our leading thinkers, who said that we could keep some kind of deterrent going for the foreseeable future at a much lower cost.
The main thrust of my argument is that in a world where the principal threat comes from terrorist cells and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, and in which advances in cyber and other technologies could rapidly make nuclear weapons obsolete, we need to think beyond the deterrence which worked so well in the Cold War. If, for now, we do need to retain some kind of deterrence capability, we need to explore other alternatives even more thoroughly than we have so far. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, emphasised—the point was taken up by other noble Lords—we need a strong and highly resourced conventional force. I do not believe, with due respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Sterling of Plaistow, that that should come from some kind of diversion of our foreign aid budget. We need a strong, capable and well-resourced capacity to meet the kind of threats present in the modern world. I also believe that many more resources should be put into cyber and counter-cyber warfare and cutting-edge modern technologies.
One of the real worries at a time like this is our being too complacent about Trident acting as a kind of insurance policy for ever; it will not. It is absolutely certain that it cannot, because the world moves on and we need think beyond that to whatever may be necessary for the immediately foreseeable future.
My Lords, renewal of our nuclear deterrent is perhaps the most significant defence procurement decision required of the Government. It is right that an issue that incites such depth of feeling on both sides of the argument should be fully discussed.
As some noble Lords will know, I live in Renfrewshire, which borders the Clyde, and I was educated at Greenock Academy on the Firth of Clyde. My father served in the First World War as a Glasgow Highlander. I grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War when the ravages of that conflict were all too obvious in Greenock, a town that was heavily bombed. I was 11 when the submarine tender USS “Proteus” arrived in Holy Loch on the Clyde in 1961—that presence concluding in 1992. In the early 1960s, Faslane on the Gare Loch on the Clyde became home to the United Kingdom nuclear deterrent. I live less than 30 miles away from the Faslane base.
This background is to explain that from my earliest years I have been aware of the consequences of war and have lived most of my life not just in the shadow but as a neighbour of our nuclear deterrent. Some might regard that as a disturbing environment. I view it with a mixture of pragmatism and stoicism. It is there because it needs to be there and I would feel much less secure if it were not there. I shall expand that argument in a moment.
Let me say by way of preface that I do not support the deterrent with joy and jubilation. Rather, I support it with reluctance and accept it as a necessity. Nor do I criticise opponents of the deterrent as weak, confused or ambivalent. This a sombre and grave issue that requires serious reflection. I believe that the peace that we all want is not made more likely by one-sided disarmament. Indeed history repeatedly informs us that such vulnerability is the catalyst for heightened danger and, arguably, a greater probability of conflict. More than 1,500 years ago the Latin writer Vegetius Renatus wrote:
“Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum”—
“If you want peace, prepare for war”. That encapsulates what a deterrent is. The evidence is that for more than 60 years the deterrent at Faslane has been effective. That is why we must retain it. The alternative is too dangerous.
However, it also imposes—as others have said—a continuing requirement on the United Kingdom, along with our international partners, to constantly review and reassess capacity and need. It reaffirms the importance of multilateral disarmament. That is not some illusory objective. As numerous contributors have said, the non-proliferation treaties with international resolve have resulted in the major powers, of which the UK is one, reducing nuclear stockpiles and discouraging other states such as Iran from developing a capability.
However, we cannot ignore the nuclear capability that aggressive and, in some cases, undemocratic and totalitarian regimes are developing in secret. We do not know what their intentions are. We are a long way from achieving the transparency we need about such regimes. None the less, a proactive attempt to engage with them must continue; but without a deterrent, such global and diplomatic endeavours will be prejudiced. One negotiates from a position of strength, not weakness. That is why we must currently retain our UK deterrent.
That is a difficult proposition for unilateralists to accept and I understand that. I deeply respect the long-held and profound views of those who advocate unilateralism but disagree with their analysis and conclusion. However, their arguments deserve examination and I shall try to address some of their main objections. First, they say we should lead by example and that if we cast aside our nuclear capability, other countries will do the same—if we disarm, the rest will disarm. I disagree and repeatedly history has refuted such a proposition. Secondly, it is asserted that Trident is so lethal and potentially so destructive that it can never be used. To that I say that a deterrent does not have to be used to be effective. It has to exist and there has to be a willingness in the most extreme circumstances to use it. These two factors in tandem create the element of deterrence. Deterrence by its very nature is difficult to prove; we are asked to prove a negative. All I can do is point to the absence of nuclear conflict over the last 65 years.
Some who oppose renewal of our deterrent do so on grounds of cost. They may concede the argument for having it but believe that the costs are so significant that they are not justifiable. My problem with that position is that it seems to imply acceptance of a partial defence capability. When we are talking about the defence of the realm, national security and the country’s safety in an increasingly dangerous, turbulent and unpredictable world, I think that it is a deeply flawed argument. You either have a defence capability that keeps you safe and can influence at the global level or you do not. You cannot have a sort of defence capability.
In conclusion, I support the Government’s commitment to renew our nuclear deterrent. I share my noble friend Lord King’s view of that deterrent: it is an awesome and arguably awful capability but I believe that, in current times, there is no safe alternative.
My Lords, I support the statement made on 9 July and the proposal in tonight’s Motion. I support the view that four submarines will make a key contribution to the alliance upon which our security architecture relies. The Minister has put the issues very effectively, though I share my noble friend Lord Robertson’s anxiety that we are coming to a critical discussion perhaps without the seriousness that it merits—a three-hour debate, late in the evening, with 23 of us present on an issue of this kind and no opportunity in this House of course to vote to show our consent to the proposition that the Government are making.
I hope that the Leader of the Opposition in the Commons will support this position although, candidly, I am not holding my breath. My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe did a really remarkable job of trying to explain our labyrinthine positions but I think that it is fair to say that the party’s policy is surprisingly clear. It is and must remain that we support a wholly effective nuclear deterrent. We know in any case that the people of the United Kingdom will not trust their Government to leaders who will not adequately protect them. I also associate myself with the expressions of appreciation to those who have protected us and who should be properly acknowledged.
Nuclear deterrence remains a necessity. It is not just because the world is more volatile but because threats emerge with grater rapidity. There are not the pauses that allowed lengthy deliberations as messages historically moved by hand over distance. Communications and weaponry are built around immediacy, so it is critical in advance that everyone understands and reduces the risk of paying the price for what would never be a victory. This balance, however daunting, is struck by the prospect of mutually assured destruction. It can be understood instantly, and obviously has been in recent history.
I see no evidence of restraint on the part of those who observed our own weapons reductions. In a world where proliferation is the more dominant possibility than multilateralism, and unless and until we can manage to swing the pendulum in a different direction, we must make our decisions realistically. All recent government studies—Labour studies, coalition studies—reach the same conclusion. Of course, some—perhaps all—threats by terrorists and non-state actors are not affected by this balance directly. The statement also carried some information about conventional forces, although I sincerely doubt that there is anything like adequate provision being made, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, so eloquently put it. In a non-partisan way, I hope that the Minister will recognise that there is a concern for our wider security; it is not a party-political point at all. Trident is not an alternative to conventional capabilities; we need them both. Plainly, the need for planning for the whole is important, as is the need for a contingency plan in relation to Scotland.
I believe that the statement on Trident also provides a continuing rationale for the United Kingdom’s permanent membership of the Security Council with veto powers. We may have decided to weaken drastically our global standing. Whether any noble Lord agrees or disagrees with that observation, I hope we can all agree that we should try to remain influential, as advocates of our values in the international community. That point was raised and questioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. In my experience, when seeking agreements on matters that seem a long way from nuclear deterrents, such as on Darfur or on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, our standing in the world community was significant, even on those occasions when we did not succeed. The Security Council and UNGA’s key mission has been to maintain peace and, despite the grim history of mass death in industrial-scale wars—the Somme has already quite properly been mentioned—it has dampened the risks that are run between the major powers. The cost of this insurance—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, did not like the word—is prudent. It is a policy that my noble friend Lord West rightly describes as cost effective and militarily effective and my noble friend Lord Hutton is right to ask whether there is a better option.
I conclude with a different point. Current relations with Russia are poor and becoming worse. Given the lateness of the hour it is quite inappropriate to start discussing that in detail or apportioning blame, but I want to start with the facts. Relations are in bad shape. Whatever the developments in hostile armaments, whether nuclear or cyber, it cannot be sensible to have only this kind of relationship with Russia. Too few politicians or their officials know each other well. Too few people in education, health or civil society have any adequate contacts or links. Some channels of communication will not work and at the moment some work poorly. This is not a plea for business as usual because I recognise that that is not possible, but having no channels is still worse. Of course, some discussions have been resumed. My hope is that we can find ways in which there are wider groups in our populations who can engage with each other without enmity to discuss health or university exchanges or those things that bind people of good will together around values that can and should be shared. I hope the Minister will agree that this does not damage our defence architecture.
My Lords, I am going to wind up for the Liberal Democrats and will probably give the only—dare I say it—authentic and official Liberal Democrat position on continuous at-sea deterrence. I will say in advance that I am speaking as briefed according to our party policy. I speak as vice-chair of our Federal Policy Committee and as the person who has the dubious distinction of chairing our last defence working group. We produced an excellent defence policy paper, most of which I would be very happy to advocate to your Lordships. The bit that achieved most publicity and notoriety at the time was our policy on the nuclear deterrent. I am tasked this evening with advocating that again, so I think I will be the only Member of your Lordships’ House this evening not saying that I support the Government.
I will say in advance that, while I am speaking officially in terms of the party line, my own view is very much as a multilateralist. Certainly, anything that I am saying should not be taken as suggesting in any way that I am advocating a unilateralist position, nor indeed that my party is advocating a unilateralist position. I will explain shortly because I can see quizzical faces.
There have been suggestions from various Members of your Lordships’ House that this is a snap decision, and it has been asked why we are making it now. We are not making a snap decision this evening. We have been talking about this for at least 10 years. The Liberal Democrats are now on, I think, our fourth review of what we think our policy should be. Back in 2006-07, the policy review was led by the late Lord Roper and the person responsible for drafting the then policy was the late Lord Garden, both of whom reviewed and took this issue extremely seriously. I was on that working group. At the time, a decade ago, we were reviewing whether it made sense to have an independent nuclear deterrent. The words of Sir Michael Quinlan, which have been mentioned by various noble Lords this evening, were important. Was it still the appropriate measure to have after the end of the Cold War, in a world where the threats seemed to be changing and the threat of Russia was perhaps less significant than it had been?
Clearly, the situation now is very different. Russia now poses a threat, and the only nuclear threat that seems to have abated in the past decade is that of Iran. The geopolitical situation a decade on is such that those of us who had questioned whether a nuclear deterrent that arose during the Cold War was still appropriate in the 21st century have begun to change our minds.
The position that my party took in 2007 was to say very clearly that the decision on a replacement for Trident did not need to be taken then. The main-gate decision did not need to be taken until the 2010-15 Parliament. For reasons that we do not need to rehearse now, that decision was not taken until 2016. The Liberal Democrat position is that we believe we should retain a nuclear capability. We believe the threats are such that the United Kingdom and her European allies need to have a nuclear deterrent, but we do not believe in like-for-like replacement. The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, might suggest that we are closet unilateralists.
The party’s position was debated at great length over the years and agreed in 2013: that we believed in retaining a nuclear deterrent but we were not persuaded that it was essential to keep a four-boat solution. While I understand that that is not going to work—were we to have a vote this evening, I would be in a minority, possibly of two, because I note that my Chief Whip has appeared and would support this line as well. But the position that the Liberal Democrats took, after a prolonged debate, eschewed the unilateralist perspective that many in my party, like the leader of the Labour Party—his position was outlined earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe—would have preferred.
My party was willing to accept the retention of nuclear weapons and the replacement of Trident, but not like-for-like replacement, on the understanding that we would seek to take a step down the nuclear ladder, and that giving up nuclear weapons in a unilateralist way—saying simply, “We no longer wish to retain nuclear weapons”—would not give us any leverage in non-proliferation discussions. Keeping a seat at the table was important, and having a non-like-for-like replacement would at least ensure that we were still building submarines, retaining the skills that, as we have heard, are so important for our economy but also for the country’s nuclear capability. Therefore, while moving away from continuous at-sea deterrence might strike some of your Lordships as leaving us vulnerable, it would also mean that we have not lost such capability and that we keep many options open, in a way that a step to unilateralism would not. The official Liberal Democrat position is that we do not support the like-for-like replacement of Trident but we do support the retention of nuclear capabilities and believe that stepping down the nuclear ladder would pave the way for further discussions on non-proliferation.
I will conclude with two questions for the Minister. First, in light of questions about non-proliferation, can he explain how the Government intend to contribute further to non-proliferation discussions once a decision on the four-boat solution is voted on next Monday? We have five-yearly reviews of the non-proliferation treaty. They tend to coincide with general election years, which perhaps has meant that the United Kingdom has not played as significant a role in the discussions as it might have. What scope might there be in 2020 for a key British role—
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way during a short debate. I am very interested in what she is saying. She has been very candid about the Liberal Democrats’ position—in favour of retaining a nuclear capability, but not supporting this particular move. In what form would they retain a nuclear capability?
I am most grateful for the opportunity to clarify the non-continuous at-sea deterrence policy. It was outlined clearly in 2013 during the debate following the Trident alternatives review. We will have fewer than four boats, which is understood to be two or three boats. Since the Trident alternatives review did not explore a two-boat solution, I believe that must mean a three-boat solution, but, technically, our policy is for fewer than four boats. Not having a continuous at-sea deterrent means that the boats can be in or out of operation according to a timetable decided by whoever runs our defence policy at the time.
My final point goes back to the issue of costs. On Monday, after the Minister repeated the then Prime Minister’s Statement following the NATO summit, I asked a question about defence expenditure and some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and other Members this evening. My understanding, from reading the report of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, is that it shares the concern I raised on Monday. It was outlined on Monday—this was repeated by the noble Lord—that there has been a 0.5% increase in real terms in defence expenditure, but that was predicated on a budgetary forecast made before the decision to leave the European Union, which may mean that the defence budget is smaller than initially assumed. In that case, will the Minister reflect on what the implications are for the defence budget of taking this decision and ensuring that our defence capabilities are secure?
My Lords, we have had a richly informed but short debate. I am sure all Members who have taken part would have wanted more time, and I have no doubt that the Minister will, like me, bring that to the attention of the usual channels on both sides.
In August 1945, the Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, set up a Cabinet committee to examine the feasibility of Britain acquiring the atomic bomb. When, in October 1946, the Americans ended their nuclear co-operation, the Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, said:
“We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs … we’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack flying on top of it.”
In 1947, the final decision was taken to go ahead. In one sense, therefore, the Labour Party, on behalf of the British people, has ownership of the policy to have an independent nuclear deterrent. Our commitment to this policy remains steadfast today, despite some twists and turns over the past 70 years.
Maintaining Britain’s nuclear deterrent is the policy of the Labour Party, as my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe said at the start of the debate. It was a Labour Government who, in December 2006, published a White Paper. Noble Lords will remember those things called Green Papers and White Papers, and perhaps the Government will take note, because they would be of great value. The White Paper was on reviewing our nuclear deterrent. It set out the conclusions of a series of studies into whether Britain should still have a nuclear deterrent, and if the answer was yes, how that nuclear deterrent could best be provided.
The White Paper concluded that, while there was no nation with both the capability and intent to threaten the independence of the UK, we could not dismiss the possibility that a major nuclear threat might emerge. Having considered options for different ways of providing a nuclear deterrent, it finally concluded that the most effective system was a further class of submarine carrying ballistic missiles. In March 2007, the House of Commons voted 409 to 161 to endorse the conclusions of the White Paper. Work started immediately on assessing the different options, to determine how best to set up an affordable ballistic missile submarine capable of providing a credible deterrent capability well into the second half of the century. This culminated in a successful initial business case, and in April 2011 the Treasury approved the initial gate decision, which was announced to Parliament the following month.
Ernest Bevin said that we had to have the nuclear deterrent no matter what the cost. Many people would say that that was then, and that the cost now runs to tens of billions of pounds. But what is the cost of not having the deterrent? The true cost of conflict cannot be measured in money; it is measured in lives lost. Some 60 million people were killed in the Second World War—perhaps three times the number who lost their lives in the First World War, and most of them civilians. The plain fact is that resisting tyranny never comes cheap. If the possession of a nuclear deterrent helps keep the peace and saves lives, for me that is the better measure of the true cost.
I accept that many others will argue that the possession of nuclear weapons is morally wrong, and even if they could be justified on moral grounds, the scale of destruction that would be unleashed if they were used is too appalling to contemplate. But over the last seven decades, Britain’s foreign and defence policy has sought to prevent a nuclear holocaust by leaving an enemy in no doubt that the cost of aggression would be a price too much for it to bear also. Like it or not, in today’s world, in order to deter we have also to threaten.
I have heard people argue that we should scrap the nuclear deterrent. They say we should put our trust in human goodness and the determination of humanity to survive, no matter the challenges. But the key word here is trust. Recently, I read a very interesting paper written by Professor Nigel Biggar entitled Living with Trident. In it, he comments on a Church of Scotland report in 2009 which exhorted people to “trust in God” instead of placing people in a position “of fear or threat”. He writes:
“It may be true—as I believe it is—that we should always trust God. But it really doesn’t follow that we should always trust Vladimir Putin or Islamic State”.
He was right on this. My friend and colleague Kevan Jones MP, in a paper entitled Trident Myths and Facts, states, “Definitions of deterrence vary” but quotes a very good definition put forward by the prominent scholar and political scientist, Kenneth Waltz, that,
“nuclear weapons dissuade states from going to war more surely than conventional weapons do”.
On Monday, we considered the Statement following the NATO summit in Warsaw, where it was agreed that we will deploy troops in Estonia and Poland. NATO is another example of the Labour Party’s commitment to the defence of our country, as it was set up in 1949 with the help of the then Labour Government. We also considered on Monday the probable Russian response, and it will be interesting to see whether this was considered at today’s NATO-Russia Council meeting. Although we must be—and want to be—sensitive to the Russian point of view, we must make it clear that we will support our NATO partners in that region.
What do we know of Russia’s nuclear programme? We know that Russia will continue to maintain a robust and capable arsenal of strategic and non-strategic weapons for the foreseeable future. We know that, to support this policy, the Russian Government are making strong investments in their nuclear weapons programmes. We also know that priorities for their strategic nuclear forces include force modernisation and command and control facilities upgrades.
I said on Monday that on these Benches we are proud of NATO, an organisation which is the defender of our freedoms and way of life, and in an uncertain world a source of security for many around the globe. Britain’s nuclear deterrence is a key to NATO’s strategy. That strategy is deterrence, based on the appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional weapons. NATO is committed to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, it will maintain itself as a nuclear alliance. This was reaffirmed at the Wales NATO summit in 2014. The Nuclear Planning Group provides the forum for consultation on NATO’s nuclear deterrence. The United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent supports collective security through NATO for the Euro-Atlantic area.
As outlined in the 2006 White Paper, nuclear deterrence plays an important part in NATO’s overall defensive strategy, and the UK’s nuclear forces make a substantial contribution. If the UK were to unilaterally disarm but wished to remain a member of NATO, it would still need to accept that nuclear weapons are integrated into the whole of NATO’s force structure.
Britain, throughout its history, has always punched above its weight in the world, and most often for good. We have continued that role in NATO. If we ceased to possess a nuclear deterrent, our ability to influence the United States and others would greatly diminish—and the knock-on effect would greatly reduce NATO’s ability to defend. Therefore the United Kingdom would still be covered by the overall NATO nuclear umbrella, and would have to remain in the decision-making processes relating to the deployment of nuclear weapons.
In the more than seven decades since the world first came to terms with nuclear weapons after the end of the last war there has been no direct military conflict between the major powers, and no state covered by another state’s nuclear umbrella has been the target of a major state attack. I am the first to admit that it is impossible to prove that this situation has arisen because of nuclear deterrence. But it is also impossible to prove otherwise.
I have not yet reached my threescore years and ten, but I am not far short of it. And unlike my parents’ generation, which saw two world wars and the deaths of untold millions of people, all my life I have lived in a country where I am free and safe. I want that for my children and my grandchildren too—to live in freedom and safety. I believe that the possession of a nuclear deterrent has helped keep this country safe for the last seven decades, and I believe it will keep it safe in the future.
My Lords, my confident expectation for this evening was for a constructive and illuminating debate, and I have not been disappointed. No doubt all of us could have wished for a somewhat longer time to devote to this crucial matter, but I am extremely grateful for the invaluable insights and expertise that your Lordships have brought to bear on it. I hope that the wide support for the Government’s policy voiced this evening will inform and assist our right honourable and honourable friends as they prepare for their own debate in five days’ time.
I should like to address some of the highly pertinent questions and observations raised by noble Lords who have spoken. I begin with the question posed by the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Ramsbotham: why are we having this debate now? There are some simple realities which we must confront. The Vanguard fleet is due to leave service in the early 2030s, and the successor submarines are highly complex vessels, which take 20 years or so to design and build. It is important, too, to recognise that industry needs certainty for the investment that it needs to make both in construction and in skilled workers. It has the assurance from the Government of a clear policy, but at this juncture in the successor programme, it is right that it knows that Parliament as a whole is behind this programme.
In 2007 Parliament voted to maintain our strategic nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the existing system. Last year Parliament voted twice to retain our deterrent, and the issue will be debated again next week. It is important that we keep reminding ourselves that this is not a judgment about short-term threats, but about the threats we may face over generations to come. It is right that Parliament has the opportunity to vote on such an important issue. It is important, too, for the Government to have the backing of Parliament in pursuing the policy on which we were elected to office.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about the need for ongoing scrutiny of the programme as it goes forward. The 2015 SDSR concluded that a step change was required in the performance of the defence nuclear enterprise to deliver the successor submarine programme on time and on budget. We are currently engaged in intensive negotiations with industry about how best to contract on both Astute and successor to deliver the necessary performance improvements. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further while those negotiations are ongoing.
In addition, we have established a new Director General Nuclear post and supporting organisation to create a single and accountable focus within the Ministry of Defence for all aspects of the defence nuclear enterprise. In parallel, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, the MoD also plans to create a new organisation for the procurement and in-service support of all nuclear submarines, including the successor programme. This organisation will have a specific focus on delivery, with the authority and freedom to recruit and retain the best people to manage the technical challenges and industrial base. Options for the new organisation continue to be developed and assessed.
Furthermore, as regards the Director General Nuclear, we expect to make a permanent appointment by the end of the year, but to maintain momentum at what is a critical point in the successor programme, Ian Forber, a civil servant with extensive experience of nuclear-related issues, has been appointed as acting DG Nuclear. The need for primary legislation will be considered as part of the continuing development and assessment of options for the new organisation.
My noble friend Lord Sterling, in his thoughtful and wide-ranging speech for which I thank him, spoke about the defence budget and the 2% commitment. The Government have made two defence spending commitments: to increase the budget in real terms in each year of this decade and to meet the NATO 2% commitment. Obviously, the first commitment means that defence spending will increase irrespective of what happens to GDP. I hope that reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham.
My noble friend Lord Sterling referred to the depreciation of the pound in the context of the defence budget. I can tell him that the department carefully monitors fluctuations in currency markets and takes steps to protect its budget from short-term volatility. Like any responsible large organisation, we take appropriate financial precautions in all our procurement contracts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, and the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, were right to underline that there is no viable alternative to CASD. The Trident Alternatives Review, published in 2013, demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable, resilient or cost-effective as the current Trident-based deterrent. It found that submarines were less vulnerable to attack than silos or aircraft and can maintain a continuous posture in a way that air and land-based alternatives cannot. Alternative delivery systems, such as cruise missiles, lack the range of the Trident missile system, meaning that the reach and capability of our deterrent would be reduced.
In that vein, the noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord Lee, and my noble friend Lady Buscombe all made a point with which I wholly agree. To those who, like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, propose saving cash by cutting our fleet from four to three, I contend that that would be a false economy. A continuous at-sea deterrent without the capacity to be continuous is no good to anyone. It would ultimately undermine the credibility of our deterrent on the international stage, rendering it pointless. Any savings made would be offset by the very real danger of being left in the lurch in the event of unplanned refits or breakdowns and our consequent inability to provide a second-strike capability.
My noble friend Lord King, in his wise and helpful speech, rightly rejected the proposition that the United States protects NATO, so why do we need UK nuclear weapons? What do they add to the alliance? He knows, as do many noble Lords, that the supreme guarantee of the security of the allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the alliance in the round, particularly those of the United States. The independent strategic nuclear forces of the UK and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of all allies. Having more than one nuclear power in NATO makes it more difficult for adversaries to predict how the alliance might respond if threatened, so the deterrent effect is stronger.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, questioned how nuclear weapons help us to fight terrorism. The noble Lord, Lord West, put it very well. Nuclear weapons by themselves do not deter terrorists, but they were never meant to. We believe that they will, on the other hand, deter states tempted to sponsor terrorist groups by providing the capability to enable them to act as nuclear-armed terrorists as proxy against the UK or our NATO allies.
The UK has a wide range of policies and capabilities to deal with the wide range of threats we currently face—or might face in the future. Our nuclear deterrent is there to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, which cannot be done by other means. The nuclear deterrent does not deter terrorism any more than a tank or infantry deter nuclear war.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, went on to ask whether the deterrent serves a rational purpose. On that, I align myself with the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and many other speakers. We cannot be certain what extreme threats we might face in the 2030s, 2040s, 2050s and beyond. Our nuclear deterrent provides the ultimate guarantee of our national security and way of life. Deterrence means convincing any potential aggressor that the benefits of an attack are far outweighed by its consequences. It is in no one’s interests to attack another nuclear power with nuclear weapons because of the consequences of its response.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, also raised a practical issue. He asserted that emerging capabilities will one day enable our enemies to locate our submarines or subvert them through cyberwarfare. I can tell him that a great deal of work has been done on that subject. Let me assure him that, despite ongoing and exhaustive monitoring of nascent technologies, there is nothing to suggest that this will be remotely possible in the foreseeable future. If it were remotely possible, we should ask ourselves why both Russia and China are expanding their nuclear submarine fleets.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, suggested that the Government should remove the cost of Successor from the mainstream defence budget, accounting for 2% of GDP. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Touhig, about the indivisibility of deterrence. All our forces, including conventional forces, have a powerful deterrent effect. Nuclear weapons, however, pose a unique threat and remain a necessary element of the capability we need to deter threats from others possessing nuclear weapons. It was made clear in the 2006 White Paper that investment required to maintain the nuclear deterrent will not be at the cost of other conventional capabilities. That remains the case today.
My noble friend Lord Arbuthnot on a similar theme asked why CASD was funded by the Ministry of Defence. I say to him that it is right that, as the ultimate defensive and protective capability, the deterrent continues to be funded by the Ministry of Defence. The regular reviews that form SDSRs examine the whole spectrum of threats. The Government, and the Ministry of Defence as part of that, are thus able to take appropriate decisions and allocate funding when required to defend our nation.
My noble friend was right to speak of the political sensitivities of basing the deterrent in Scotland. Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde is one of the largest employment sites in Scotland, as he knows, with around 6,800 military and civilian jobs now, as well as a wider economic impact on the local economy. The future is very positive. The numbers at HMNB Clyde are set to increase to an estimated 8,200 by 2022. That increasing presence generates economic benefits for communities throughout Scotland—through jobs, contracts and requirements for supporting services and skills. That is the message that we need to get across to our friends and colleagues in Scotland. In the end, the people of Scotland voted to remain part of our United Kingdom in 2014 and they will continue to benefit themselves from the security that our deterrent provides.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his customarily thoughtful speech, spoke about nuclear disarmament. I agree that the only way to achieve global nuclear disarmament is to create the conditions whereby nuclear weapons are no longer necessary. We believe that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty should remain the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. All state parties should be pushing for universality of the treaty and for concrete progress across all three of its mutually reinforcing pillars. It is worth reminding ourselves that the NPT process has worked. It has stopped the nuclear arms race, reduced stockpiles and slowed the pace of proliferation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked me what we are proposing to do practically with the NPT. Clearly multilateral disarmament will be challenging, but we remain fully committed to a world without nuclear weapons in line with our obligations under Article 6 of the NPT. We firmly believe that the best way to achieve that goal is through gradual multilateral disarmament, negotiated using a step-by-step approach within the framework of the NPT. We remain determined to continue to work with partners across the international community to make progress on this to build trust and confidence to underpin the process. We have put forward a proposal to create a working group that can identify, elaborate on and make recommendations on effective measures for nuclear disarmament. That proposal remains on the table, and we continue to work with other member states with the aim of reinvigorating the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
My noble friend Lady Goldie spoke compellingly on the futility of unilateral disarmament. I agree with every word that she said. Unilateral disarmament would not make the world a safer place. It is naive to imagine that the grand gesture of UK unilateral disarmament would change the calculations of nuclear states or those regimes seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. There is no good reason to think that other nuclear-capable states would follow our example; that has not been our experience to date.
The noble Lord, Lord Hutton, asked specifically about the comprehensive test ban treaty. The UK is a strong supporter of the CTBT and we actively urge states to sign and/or ratify it. The remaining Annex 2 states outside the treaty need to join as soon as possible, and we press for this whenever the opportunity presents itself.
This has been an extraordinarily useful debate, and I apologise to those speakers whom I have not been able to mention. Amid our deliberations, notwithstanding the hesitations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, there has been a steel core of consensus. Whether one is in favour of or opposed to maintaining this nation’s nuclear deterrent, we can all surely agree on the laudable premise that a world without nuclear weapons would be a better one. Utopian dreams aside, though, we have to face facts: we cannot predict the future. As so many speakers have said, nuclear weapons are here—17,000 of them around the world. They present a real and present threat to our national security and, for as long as they continue to do so—as I fear they are likely to—we must maintain our ability to respond in kind. To do otherwise would be a dereliction of this Government’s primary duty, the defence of the realm—a duty that we must discharge not just on behalf of the men, women and children living in the UK today, not just on behalf of NATO, but on behalf of countless generations yet to be born.
House adjourned at 10.29 pm.