Proliferation in Parliament
September - November 2007
Welcome to the fourth edition of Proliferation in Parliament, a service from the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.
This month's edition includes coverage of the Queen's speech, which made no mention of nuclear issues, other than Iran's nuclear programme. Nonetheless, in the debate on the speech, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Michael Moore continued to press the case against Trident, arguing that "We cannot create the right conditions for force reductions if we pre-empt the debate by making the decision to replace Trident now."
The debate on the Queen's speech was also notable for the number of MPs of all parties who spoke out against any military airstrike against Iran and called for diplomatic dialogue. In particular Labour left-winger Jeremy Corbyn made common ground with Conservative John Barron in the call for a "peaceful solution".
The Scottish Government's initiatives on Trident and the NPT continue to make waves (see Nuclear Non-Proliferation News, November 5, 2007) with the Trident summit held on 22 November, the announcement of a working group to look at ways of challenging the renewal of Trident on Scottish soil, First Minister Alex Salmond's letter to states parties of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regarding Scotland's nuclear free policy and its bid to get observer status at meetings of the NPT.
In the Scottish Parliament, Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for the district that includes the Faslane nuclear base Jackie Baillie tried to find some grounds to object, requesting costings for the event, which were remarkably modest, since participants - including Scottish Members of Parliament (MP) and MSP, leaders of the Scottish Churches, civil society, trades unions, local councillors - paid their own travel and the venue was a Church hall in Glasgow. Last month, the Scottish Government wrote to all 122 NPT states parties with embassies and consulates in Edinburgh and London, but political opponents sought to make something sinister of the list's inclusion of Iran and Zimbabwe. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen accused First Minister Alex Salmond of being "obsessed with getting a seat in the ante-room at the United Nations". Salmond replied that the "majority opinion in Scotland [was] to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons".
Foreign Office Minister Dr Kim Howells who had been a staunch opponent of nuclear weapons in the 1980s, expressed the government's formal displeasure, insisting that defence was a "reserved matter" and Scotland was "not eligible therefore for separate observer status".
Following the BBC Newsnight programme's report that the UK's nuclear weapons were "protected by bike locks", Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne confirmed that the UK's Trident missiles are not equipped with permissive action links, but insisted that "robust arrangements" are in place for the political control of the UK's nuclear weapons.
Despite a steady increase in the amount spent on nuclear weapons increasing steadily including at Aldermaston, Defence Secretary Browne insisted that there was no programme to develop a new warhead [yet]. Such a decision would be taken in the next parliament. However, a Warhead Pre-Concept Working Group has been established at AWE, which will "assess the range of replacement options that might be available to help inform decisions likely to be necessary in the next Parliament".
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Edward Leigh (Conservative) told the Commons that, "given the mismanagement of technical and commercial risks on the Astute submarine programme, which was highlighted in the major projects report... we will watch progress on the massive Trident replacement programme with two eyes fully open."
Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne continued to obstruct calls for a debate following the announcement on 25 July 2007 (see Proliferation in Parliament July - August 2007) that equipment would be installed at Menwith Hill in support of the US Missile Defence system. Browne also declined to answer further questions from Danny Alexander MP (Liberal Democrat) about the UK's involvement in the missile defence programme.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown took a hard line on Iran in his first foreign policy speech to the Lord Mayor's Banquet on November 12, and in Prime Minister's Questions on 24 October when he said that Britain was "prepared to lead the way to a third resolution of sanctions" and that he would "rule nothing out" on the issue of airstrikes.
Independent MP Dai Davies continued to press the government to reveal further information concerning nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s and 60s in the Pacific and Australia and their impact on British test veterans. Whilst the government has declined to release many of the records because they contain "sensitive information", Mr Davies did succeed in getting a breakdown of the files that are currently being withheld.
The Security and Defence Committee of the European Parliament has begun to examine nuclear non-proliferation related questions, and notably received a document from the Commission at its last meeting on EU efforts to promote non-proliferation through the inclusion of clauses on non-proliferation in trade and cooperation agreements. This informs a debate on the possibility of including a non-proliferation clause in a forthcoming partnership agreement with India. In addition, the Policy Department for External Policies of the European Parliament has produced a report on Europe and Missile Defences.
In this month's issue:
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