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Summer 2008

Previous editions of Proliferation in Parliament are available at www.acronym.org.uk/parliament

UK Four Statesmen

A cross party group of four senior British Parliamentarians published a letter in the Times on 30 June 2008 calling for "substantial progress towards a dramatic reduction in the world's nuclear weapons". The letter was signed by former Conservative Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd of Westwell, former Conservative Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, former Social Democrat Party Leader Lord Owen, and former Labour Defence Secretary and NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. For further analysis see, Britain's new nuclear abolitionists, by Rebecca Johnson, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 15 July 2008.

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague speech on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

On 23 July, Conservative foreign affairs spokesperson William Hague made a speech setting out Conservative party policy on nuclear non-proliferation following the initiative by Shultz, Kissinger, Perry and Nunn and recent speeches from presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. Hague set out eight proposals for UK policy, including a "strategic dialogue between Britain, the United States, France, Russia and China on how to achieve future reductions in nuclear stockpiles, on ways to reduce further the risk of nuclear confrontation or accidental nuclear war, and how to make progress on our disarmament commitments in a way that strengthens the NPT," and that Britain should propose a conference of the nuclear-weapon states to be held prior to the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

In line with previous Conservative policy, Hague remained sceptical about the role of what he persisted in calling "unilateral" nuclear disarmament, an echo from the Cold War, but he called for a "common approach with America" and dialogue with the US "about ways to build a consensus and bring in other countries". "We ought to seize the opportunity of combining a new US administration with a major British effort to push these and similar ideas. This would be a real and meaningful use of the special relationship. It is an urgent one," Hague concluded.

Cost of Trident

A question from Angus Robertson MP revealed that, a collaborative MOD/industry team has been formed to take work forward on Trident. The team is halfway through the concept phase of the programme, and is working to "develop the information and realistic options needed to deliver a robust Initial Gate Business Case in late 2009". It is not yet clear whether these options will be returned to Parliament for a decision.

A question from Liberal Democrat spokesperson Nick Harvey MP revealed the cost of the UK nuclear weapon programme running at over £1billion per annum, with an increase to £1.7 billion in the past year. However, Defence Secretary Des Browne was unable to answer a question from Dai Davies MP concerning what proportion of funds were allocated to Trident in the Defence Plan 2008-2012.

Trident and jobs in Scotland

In response to the Scottish Government's 'Scotland Without Nuclear Weapons Working Group', which will be looking into the economic impact, opportunities and prospects for jobs in the event that Trident was removed from the Clyde, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie who represents Dumbarton East, near where Trident is based at Faslane and Coulport, reiterated her claims that some 11,000 jobs could be lost (see Nuclear Non-Proliferation News, 12 June 2008). By contrast, at the Westminster Parliament, a question from Labour MP Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) revealed that only 859 civilian jobs rely directly on the Trident programme in Scotland, the rest being MoD jobs attached to the navy and police.

Trident, safety and secrecy

Defence Secretary Des Browne declined to answer a number of questions concerning safety of Trident warheads on grounds of "safeguarding national security" (see also Nuclear Weapons, Written Answers, 10 Jun 2008 : Column 120W, and Trident Missiles, Written Answers, 13 Mar 2008 : Column 667W). There were also questions from MPs concerning safety of the UK's nuclear submarines and their berthing arrangements, following a number of high profile accidents while submarines have been overseas.

Nuclear Submarine Decommissioning

Major concerns still remain over the UK's approach to decommissioning nuclear submarines. Currently none of the UK's retired submarines have completed decommissioning and as a result all fourteen (including presumably the former Polaris fleet) are stored afloat at Devonport Naval Base and Rosyth Dockyard.

A question from Nick Harvey, front bench defence spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, revealed that the Ministry of Defence is currently unable to give a figure for the time (or even the average length of time per boat) that submarine decommissioning is expected to take. Current plans are to dock each of the submarines "every 10 to 15 years to allow a complete survey and re-preservation package to ensure further safe afloat storage until final disposal". Such plans indicate that decommissioning will continue to be a long term safety and environmental problem. This raises questions over the sustainability of further nuclear submarine procurement without effective plans to deal with the floating nuclear hazard of the decommissioned fleet.

Atomic Weapons Establishments face problems with safety, staffing and flooding

Extensive questioning from Liberal Democrat MPs Norman Baker and Mike Hancock reveal safety problems at AWE Burghfield, in particular, following flooding in July 2007. In response to a question from Norman Baker, Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth also provides a list of forthcoming planning applications at Aldermaston and Burghfield.

US Nuclear Weapons at RAF Lakenheath

Despite recent media stories that the final US nuclear weapons had been removed from RAF Lakenheath (see Federation of American Scientists reports removal of US nuclear weapons from the UK, 26 June 2008), the UK Ministry of Defence maintained its position "to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons at a given location".

Missile Defence

Missile defence plans featured in two debates in recent months: Defence in the World in the House of Commons on 8 May and Oral Questions in the House of Lords on 3 March.

Initiating questioning in the Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire congratulated the Government on "their ability to maintain whatever consultations are taking place in this country entirely outside the press or any report to Parliament, in sharp contrast with the Czech Republic and Poland, where at least there appears to be a public debate". Baroness Williams of Crosby emphasised the "extreme importance of very close Russian and NATO co-operation on issues concerning nuclear proliferation" and called for "fresh consideration" by NATO to Russian proposals for co-operation. Speaking for the Government Baroness Taylor of Bolton attempted to reassure the Lords that the Government was entering into discussions "in good faith".

National Security Strategy

The UK's National Security Strategy, published in March 2008, for the first time in a government document of this nature, emphasises the "interdependence" between different issues affecting the UK's security. Echoing the US approach to deterrence, it sets out a strategy for "countering" the threat of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, based on four strands: Dissuade, Detect, Deny, and Defend.

Whilst the document emphasies multilateralism and reiterates the UK's commitment to the global elimination of nuclear weapons, it does not make any link between the UK's continuing commitment to Trident and the impact on arms control and disarmament.

The National Security Strategy also prompted questions from Dai Davies MP concerning it's commitment to developing new nuclear facilities in the UK. Davies queried the security implications of such development and the vulnerability of nuclear materials in transit.

In this month's issue:

We welcome your comments and feedback. Please send your comments to info@acronym.org.uk.


Westminster Parliament

Trident & Nuclear Submarines

Atomic Weapons Establisments & Nuclear Transport

Nuclear Facilities and Security

NATO and Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Non-Proliferation & Disarmament

British Policy on Iran

Missile Defence

National Security Strategy

Chemical & Biological Weapons

Scottish Parliament

  • Defence, Written Answers, 2 June 2008, S3W-13034
  • Defence, Written Answers, 23 April 2008, S3W-11874

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