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UK Parliament Debates Trident

Excerpts from the Debate, March 14, 2007

Prime Minister's Questions - Blair, Cameron and Campbell

Full text is available from the UK Parliament website at:


Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Replacing Britain's independent nuclear deterrent is in the national interest. A submarine-based alternative is the right answer, and the decision needs to be made now. Does the Prime Minister agree that in a dangerous and uncertain world, unilateral nuclear disarmament has never been and will never be the right answer?

The Prime Minister: For precisely the reasons that I gave when I made my statement to the House, I think it right that we make the decision now to begin work on replacing the Trident nuclear submarines. I think that that is essential for our security in an uncertain world. It is important for us to recognise that, although it is impossible to predict the future, the one thing that is certain-as I said in my statement-is the unpredictability of it. For that reason, I think it sensible that we make this decision today.

Mr. Cameron: I agree with the Prime Minister. Does he agree that replacing Trident meets both the spirit and the letter of our international treaty obligations? Will he confirm that the last Conservative Government cut the number of warheads, that his Government cut the number of warheads, and that there will be further reductions in the future? Does he agree that, as a result, the argument against replacing Trident on the basis of non-proliferation simply does not stand up?

The Prime Minister: We are very proud of our record in this respect, and making sure that we reduce the number of warheads is important, as we have said. It may be possible to reduce the number of submarines, although that is a decision that will have to be made at a later stage.

Yes, of course it is important that we conform fully with our non-proliferation treaty obligations, and we are doing so. I think it is possible for us to continue to play our full part-under the non-proliferation treaty-in the multilateral negotiations that I hope will take place over the years to come, so that the world becomes a safer place with fewer nuclear weapons. However, I think that we shall be best able to achieve that if we maintain our nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Cameron: We are discussing this now because the system could take about 17 years to put in place, so the timing is right, the legality is clear and maintaining the deterrent is in our national interest. Because the Prime Minister has the support of the Conservative party, we can work together in the national interest.

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Will he tell us clearly that tonight's vote is the vote and that there is no going back after tonight's vote? Will he also confirm that he will stand by his policy and that he will not appease those in his own party, or the Liberal Democrats, who simply want to run away from a tough decision?

The Prime Minister: It is precisely because I believe that this decision has to be taken now that we have the vote today in the House of Commons. I entirely understand why people might want to put off this decision, but the fact is that we need to take the decision today if we want to get parliamentary approval for the work that has to begin now on the concept and design phase-of course, the actual contracts for the design and construction are to be left for a later time. If we want to get proper parliamentary authorisation, this decision has to be taken now. I entirely understand and respect the views of those who hold a different opinion on this issue, but I have been pretty clear and firm on it from the beginning, and I think that we should continue to be so...

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): ...

I cannot help remembering that the last time that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and the Prime Minister voted together in the same Lobby on an issue of national interest was on Iraq, and that has not proved to be a comforting precedent. Does the Prime Minister accept that the most immediate nuclear threat is from other countries acquiring nuclear weapons? What then will be the role played by his Government at the nuclear non-proliferation review conference in 2010?

The Prime Minister: We will continue to play a positive role on this issue. However, I must say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is absolutely no evidence whatever that if Britain now renounced its independent nuclear deterrent that would improve the prospect of getting multilateral disarmament. On the contrary, I think that the reverse is the case. I must also say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that although of course I understand why he wants to put off this decision-I understand that that is his position-the fact is that the 17-year programme is what has been advised by the experts who advise us on this issue. I recommend that he reads the evidence given to the

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Defence Committee on this very point by Rear-Admiral Mathews. So the 17-year period is clear, and that must be worked back from 2024, which takes us to 2007. That means that we have to take the decision now if we want parliamentary approval for the concept and design phase. I am sure that if we did not seek parliamentary approval but continued with the work on the concept and design phase, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be standing up and asking why I had not sought such approval.

Sir Menzies Campbell: The Prime Minister surely accepts that a hasty decision to replace Trident is bound to undermine our ability to have influence at the conference in 2010. Should we not now be offering to reduce the number of warheads on Trident in order to give a lead to others?

The Prime Minister: We are set to reduce the number of warheads, but it is absurd to say that we can somehow put off the question of whether we take a decision now on this concept and design phase. That is absurd because obviously we have to take the advice of the experts, such as the director general who is in charge of this matter in the Ministry of Defence and others, who say to us that it is a 17-year programme and it must therefore begin now if we want to maintain the nuclear deterrent. Therefore, we cannot put this decision off; we have to take it now. I recall that a few days ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said on this issue,

"I will not sit on the fence."

I am afraid that "on the fence" is exactly where he is, and as I think that he will find, it is not a very comfortable place to be.

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Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend understand that today's motion on Trident effectively commits this country to the possession of an independent nuclear weapons system for the best part of the next 45 years without the House being guaranteed any future opportunity to consider whether it remains the best strategy? Does he understand that many of us accept the need to ensure our ability to replace the Trident system, but none the less believe that in a fast-changing world this House should be guaranteed the chance to revisit that decision at an appropriate point in the future?

The Prime Minister: I entirely understand my right hon. Friend's point. If I may put it like this, it is at what I would describe as the reasonable end of the opposition to what the Government are doing. However, let me try to explain why I think we have still got to take this decision today. It is absolutely right that this Parliament cannot bind the decisions of a future Parliament and it is always open to us to come back and look at these issues. He is right to suggest that when we get to the gateway stage-between 2012 and 2014-when we let the main contracts for design and construction, it will always be open to Parliament to take a decision. However, I believe that the reason why we have to take the decision today is that if we do not start the process now, we will not be in the position in 2012 or 2014 to continue with the nuclear deterrent should we wish to do so.

The real dilemma is that we decided rightly or wrongly-but I think rightly-that we should seek parliamentary approval even for the design and concept stage. When we came to the previous Trident nuclear submarine, it was only at a later stage that parliamentary approval was sought. That was much criticised at the time, so we decided that we should seek parliamentary approval at the very beginning of this process. Of course, it is a statement of fact that the gateway takes place at a later stage and in a later Parliament but if we want to spend at least the more limited sum of money now on the concept and design stage, we have to take a decision now.

Excerpts from the Debate

Full text including motions and voting record is available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/

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Margaret Beckett

"Let me set out the nature of the decisions that the House is being asked to support today. They are whether or not to take the steps necessary to maintain a minimum strategic nuclear deterrent for the UK-a single system comprising submarines, missiles and warheads-and to take further steps towards meeting our disarmament responsibilities under article VI of the non-proliferation treaty."

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Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept that all these issues must be subject to review over the years, and that many of us who will support her today reserve the right to review our positions when the warheads are considered in the next Parliament?

Margaret Beckett: As my hon. Friend is aware, we are not making any decision about the warheads in this Parliament, so the matter will inevitably come before a subsequent Parliament...

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Is the Foreign Secretary saying that we are making a decision today to keep all our options open, or are we making a decision that would commit a future Parliament to large expenditures when we go through the big gateway decision in due course?

Margaret Beckett: My right hon. Friend will know that that question was raised with the Prime Minister a few moments ago and he answered it clearly. It is the decision of principle that we are required to make today. It is inevitable that there will be future discussions, and there will be decisions down the road as the programme proceeds.

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There are four key issues. I will address each in turn. The first is what are we doing to fulfil our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The second is whether it is still in the national interest to maintain a nuclear deterrent. The third is why such a deterrent should be in the form that we now propose. The final issue is why we need to make this decision now...

The NPT created two distinct categories of states. Those that had already conducted nuclear tests-ourselves, the US, the Soviet Union, China and France-were designated nuclear weapons states and could legally possess nuclear weapons. All other states-signatory were designated non-nuclear weapons states. Article VI of the NPT imposes an obligation on all states

"to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament".

The NPT review conference held in 2000 agreed, by consensus, 13 practical steps towards nuclear disarmament. The UK remains committed to these steps and is making progress on them.

We have been disarming. Since the cold war ended, we have withdrawn and dismantled our tactical maritime and airborne nuclear capabilities. We have terminated our nuclear capable Lance missiles and artillery. We have the smallest nuclear capability of any recognised nuclear weapon state, accounting for less than 1 per cent. of the global inventory, and we are the only nuclear weapon state that relies on a single nuclear system. The Prime Minister has announced a further unilateral reduction in our nuclear weapons in line with our commitment to maintain only the minimum necessary deterrent. We will reduce the stockpile of operationally available warheads by another 20 per cent. to fewer than 160 warheads during the course of this year. This will involve the eventual dismantlement and disposal of about 40 warheads. The UK will then have cut the explosive power of its nuclear weapons by three quarters since the end of the cold war. That is more than any other nuclear weapon state has yet done...

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I want to be clear about the point that my right hon. Friend is making in comparison with her answers to earlier interventions. Is she saying that today's decision is a reduction of 20 per cent., or is she saying, as I thought she was, that during the 2012 to 2014 window there will be a decision that can be made by this House to determine whether the 20 per cent. reduction could be increased to, say, 50 per cent.?

Margaret Beckett: That depends, of course, on whether the House votes for this motion. If it does, we are committing ourselves to making that reduction by the end of this year...

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Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Obviously, as the Foreign Secretary rightly said, we are not the biggest player among the nuclear arms powers-and, yes, there have been steps to disarmament. Why, however, would the Government's position, which is in principle to retain the nuclear deterrent, be a better trigger for disarmament in the 2010 talks than a decision to defer on the basis of reduction now and prospective reduction or abolition of nuclear arms later?

Margaret Beckett: Let me first say to the hon. Gentleman that, as I have already pointed out, we have been disarming over the course of the past 10 years, with singularly little response. There is therefore no evidence whatever for the notion that if we defer this decision, that will somehow magically produce a different response from other players than we have had hitherto.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Before my right hon. Friend moves away from the issue of proliferation, can she give the House an assurance that if we vote for the Government's motion today, there will be renewed efforts to secure the measures on nuclear weapons disarmament mentioned in article VI of the non-proliferation treaty, particularly to try to get India, Pakistan and the other non-signatories to the NPT into the global nuclear arms control system?

Margaret Beckett: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance without any difficulty. The next step that we hope to take is to bring forward negotiations on the fissile material cut-off treaty. He is also absolutely right that it is extremely important to work with other states that are known to have a nuclear weapons capacity and have not come within the ambit of moving towards disarmament. We will certainly continue such work.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to be effective, two things are important: first, it has to be enforced; and secondly, non-nuclear states have to be convinced of the logic of it? If someone was in Israel at the moment considering whether to get rid of the nuclear weapons that they have, or if someone was in Iran-I mean a secular Iranian, not Ahmadinejad-wondering whether it is a good idea to acquire nuclear weapons, would it really be logical for them to think that they should not acquire nuclear weapons if the message they get from this country is that we need to prepare for producing the next generation just as an insurance policy for things that we do not know are going to happen?

Margaret Beckett: ... I would simply say to my hon. Friend that that is the most dangerous argument of all. It does nothing. Those who want to see nuclear disarmament, and those who are anxious and nervous about the decision that the House is being asked to make today, are doing nobody any service by encouraging the notion

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that any decision that we make gives an excuse to others, who are, in the case of Iran, signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty -[ Interruption. ] I hear the words, "He didn't say that." No, but it was quite heavily implied. There is no justification for others in the decision that we are being asked to make.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): This debate has come about not because of Trident coming to the end of its shelf life but because the Vanguard-class submarines will need to be replaced. Could the Secretary of State clarify how much it will cost to decommission the four submarines and what budget that will come from?

Margaret Beckett: I cannot, offhand, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will able to give the hon. Gentleman the figures later on...

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): If what the Foreign Secretary says is internationally accepted, why does Mohamed el-Baradei so fundamentally disagree with her on the impact that it will have on proliferation?

Margaret Beckett: I appreciate that Dr. el-Baradei has of late made a number of remarks about his wish that Governments-nuclear-armed states-should not pursue such measures. However, he knows, as we know, that all nuclear-armed states have indeed taken steps to modernise and keep up to date the weapons and facilities that they have. That is exactly the decision that the United Kingdom is making, no more and no less. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that I have looked to

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see whether I can discover Dr. el-Baradei making similar comments when other nuclear weapon states made those choices; so far I have not been able to unearth such comments...

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Could the Secretary of State give those of us who desperately want multilateral disarmament to succeed an idea of what the chances are for other nuclear states to match our unilateral action in getting rid of all battlefield and tactical weapons?

Margaret Beckett: I cannot speculate on those chances, but these are steps that we thought that it was right to take. We continue to urge them on others, and we will continue to do so through the conference on disarmament. I share the view of many in the House that it is perhaps time for a fresh push on these measures on the international stage. How successful such a push would be remains to be seen, but there have been a series of bilateral agreements since the end of the cold war, which have greatly reduced the major nuclear arsenals...

Britain remains committed to the abolition of nuclear weapons, and we are actively engaged, and encouraging others to be engaged, in a process that will lead to that goal. But progress will be steady and incremental, and only towards the end of that process will it be helpful and useful for us to include our own small fraction of the global stockpile in treaty-based reductions.

So there is no basis to suggest that we have done anything other than fully comply with our obligations under the NPT. Indeed-I say this to the House with some respect-I regard it as dangerous folly to equate our own record, as some have tried to do, with that of countries such as North Korea and Iran, which have stood or stand in clear breach of their obligations as non-nuclear weapon states under the NPT. There is no legal or moral equivalence between their position and ours. I would urge people, whatever other arguments they might use to oppose the motion, not to use that one, because it undermines the very basis of the treaty itself: that those recognised as non-nuclear weapon states should not seek to acquire nuclear weapons. The international non-proliferation regime is not perfect, but it has prevented the wide-scale proliferation of nuclear weapons. I regard it as dangerously irresponsible to use the excuse that the UK is retaining its weapons to justify others seeking to acquire them, and it runs the real risk of increasing the global nuclear threat, not reducing it.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Does the Secretary of State not think that it might be dangerous folly to use the expression "nuclear deterrent" in this context? Does she accept that these proposals are hardly going to deter Iran and North Korea? Will she explain her policy in the context of its deterring those two countries from continuing with their plans?

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Margaret Beckett: We are working on deterring Iran and North Korea from pursuing their present course of action by other, diplomatic, means, as I hope the House would want. I sincerely hope that everyone in the House wants those negotiations to succeed, and wants North Korea and Iran to be deterred from continuing on their present course of action. I really hope that people will not use arguments that suggest that they have every cause to continue.

That brings me to the second of the four pivotal questions. Why does this country need to retain its nuclear weapons? I am inclined to turn the question on its head and ask instead whether this is the time for us to abandon our nuclear deterrent, or to deny future Governments and Parliaments the ability to maintain it...

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The Secretary of State will know that our nuclear weapons have been pointing at nobody since 1994. Does she not recognise that the immediate, and perhaps medium-term, threat comes from those countries that are developing biological and chemical weapons? Does she not think that the money spent on upgrading and renewing our nuclear weapons system would be better spent on dealing with that particular threat, or on ensuring that our troops in Afghanistan were properly equipped with what they need?

Margaret Beckett: I shall come to the proportion of the costs in a few moments...

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way. She will recall that, in the past, our party and others have campaigned against nuclear weapons and for disarmament. She has made much of the adherence to the non-proliferation treaty, but is it not the case that the message going around the world is that a vastly enhanced delivery system-achieved through a new generation of submarines-will be contrary to the whole spirit of the treaty and likely to encourage proliferation rather than reduce it?

Margaret Beckett: I am sorry to have to say this to my hon. Friend, but that is complete and utter rubbish...

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has already pointed to the difficulties of delaying a decision on Trident. Does she agree that sourcing the technical capacity to support the existing nuclear provision is a fundamental difficulty and that we need to send a clear signal, both to the academic institutions of this country and the companies that will be involved in the provision of Trident, that we intend to make a commitment, so that they can begin to prepare for that and ensure that we have the expertise to secure our nuclear capacity, both militarily and domestically?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right and, if I may say so, displays her engineering expertise and understanding of how the industry works. The decision to be made by the House is not on anything other than the political, strategic and security needs of the country. However, it is also necessary to take into account the industrial implications, and those implications certainly reinforce rather than weaken the case for making a decision now.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): If the costs described by my right hon. Friend were exceeded-defence projects have a track record of exceeding their budgets-will she also guarantee that those excess costs would not impact elsewhere in the defence budget?

Margaret Beckett: The whole purpose of the scrutiny to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, referred is to make sure that that is not the case. I think that my hon. Friend will find a reference in the White Paper to the costs of the existing system, which, in real terms, are pretty close to identical to the likely costs of the new system. The kind of overrun that he describes has not been the case with that programme...

Margaret Beckett: The final question is, why must we make a decision now? Some have suggested that the decision can be delayed. Let us make no mistake-the net result of that would be not to delay the decision, but to run the risk

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of making it by default. All our advice is that if we do not start the process of designing the new generation of ballistic missile submarines now, it will already be too late.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary has indicated that we must make a decision now to begin the design process for the new submarines. She has also indicated that further decisions, which we are not making today, will have to be made about ordering the submarines, renewing or replacing the warheads or ordering successors to the D5 missile. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), she indicated that future Governments and Parliaments will have to

"discuss the most appropriate form of Parliamentary scrutiny"

for those decisions. If this Government are still in power when those decisions come to be made, will she indicate whether she believes the most appropriate form of parliamentary scrutiny to be further votes and debates in Parliament on those matters?

Margaret Beckett: I understand entirely my hon. Friend's point, but he knows that I am a former Leader of the House. No one is less likely to be prepared to commit future Governments and Parliaments to a certain course than a former Leader of the House. I simply draw his attention to the words uttered by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to the clear facts before the House-the decision in principle must be made today, but the decision on the warheads, for example, will not come in this Parliament. It would be improper for me to bind a future Government or Parliament, but every party in the House will have heard the questions and points raised, and every party will take account of them. I certainly assure my hon. Friend that this Government will do everything that we can to keep the House fully informed and to make sure that the Select Committee is kept up to date...

Some Members have sought assurances on whether this is only a provisional decision, dependent on further decisions down the line. Today's decision does not mean that we are committing ourselves irreversibly to maintaining a nuclear deterrent for the next 50 years, no matter what others do and no matter what happens in the rest of the world. That would be absurd, unnecessary and, indeed, incompatible with the nuclear proliferation treaty...

Of course, if there were a fundamental change for the better in the strategic environment-in particular, massive significant progress on non-proliferation and disarmament-it would obviously be right for future Governments to look at the issue again, and inevitably they would. As I have said, further decisions will in any case be needed on the precise design of the submarines, on whether we need four or three, on whether to renew or replace the warhead, and on whether to participate in any American programme to develop a successor to the D5 missile. It will fall to future Governments and Parliaments to discuss the most appropriate form of scrutiny for those decisions. As I have said, this Government will ensure that there are regular reports to Parliament as the programme proceeds, and we will give the Select Committee our full co-operation as it maintains its regular scrutiny of these issues.

Mr. Denham: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. On the question of parliamentary scrutiny, I understand that she cannot bind future Parliaments. I noted that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced yesterday that the Climate Change Bill would bind future Parliaments, but I understand that my right hon. Friend is reluctant to do the same. However, will she at least express the opinion to this Parliament that it would be desirable and appropriate for it to be able to take a view at some point in the future-perhaps around the time that the main contracts are let-on whether international circumstances still require us to maintain an independent nuclear missile system?

Margaret Beckett: I do not want to add anything to the words that either my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or I have already uttered to my right hon. Friend, but I will say to him that I am not sure whether

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we are at cross purposes. The stage to which he refers is not likely to be reached during the present Parliament. With the deepest respect to my good and right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is a very fine Minister indeed, he has not of course been Leader of the House. [Laughter.] Yet...

While such a risk exists, the Government believe that maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent remains a premium worth paying on an insurance policy for our nation...

William Hague

Mr. Redwood: If my right hon. Friend were Foreign Secretary now, what additional steps would he take to try to achieve more multilateral disarmament on the back of our unilateral moves?

Mr. Hague: I think there is a very strong case for an intensified effort by this country and our allies to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty...

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is giving a fine exposition of traditional Tory policy in the area under discussion, but does he agree that the key issue-which will be debated today, given that the selected amendment addresses it-is timing? Does he accept the Government's verdict on the timing? That is an important question, bearing in mind the fact that the Opposition accepted the Government's argument about weapons of mass destruction, which was found to be fallacious.

Mr. Hague: Of course, timing is a very important issue. I agree with the Government's view...

Norman Baker: The right hon. Gentleman did not mention Israel in his list of nuclear states. Does he accept that Israel's possession of nuclear weapons is a major destabilising factor in the middle east and that it is encouraging Iran to acquire nuclear capability; and what is his policy on dealing with that matter?

Mr. Hague: People cite the example of Israel having nuclear weapons, although I suspect that if we had been in Israel's situation over recent decades we would have wanted to have nuclear weapons, so I am not going to give advice to the Israeli Government about that...

Mr. Willis: All Members of the House have enormous respect for the right hon. Gentleman and we do understand the arguments that he is putting forward. However, the logic of his position is that if every single state in the world were given a nuclear weapon, the world would be safer. That is nonsense, is it not?

Mr. Hague: That is not the logic, and it is the reason why we have the non-proliferation treaty, to which we are signatories...

Willie Rennie: The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the cold war earlier. Does he agree with former President Gorbachev, who said that

"A responsible course of action for the...Government would be to postpone the decision on the future of the nuclear arsenal at least until the next review conference of the NPT in 2010"?

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Mr. Hague: For all the reasons that I have given, I do not agree with former President Gorbachev about that...

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the submarines are to be based in Scotland, which has the greatest opposition to the renewal of Trident. Some 80 per cent. opposed it in the last opinion poll. Why should the submarines be based in Scotland; and would he respect the views of the Scottish people as expressed through their Parliament, if it decided to vote against Trident?

Mr. Hague: These decisions are made on a UK basis, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. I do not think that the people who do such a tremendous job in Faslane and other locations in Scotland would thank him for saying that those facilities should be closed...

Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab)

After reading the White Paper, "The future of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent", I have concluded that it has no future-that this country has to become a country for peace, not a country for war. We have led the world in campaigning to meet the Kyoto targets. We have led the fight to eradicate global poverty. Now we must lead the world in campaigning for the eradication of the nuclear threat-and we must lead by example. As the poet and essayist Emerson said:

"The real and lasting victories are those of peace, and not of war."

I have seen colleagues wrestle with their consciences and lose their beliefs. That is not a path that I have chosen to follow...

There are those who oppose any spending on defence and our armed services, but I am not one of them. There are those who argue that the decision is premature, but I am not one of them, either. Tough decisions must never be put off. However, there are those who question the wisdom of the 15 billion investment in Trident, and I am most certainly one of them, for I cannot foresee any circumstances in which this country or its territories would be threatened by a nuclear weapons state and we would need to retaliate with a nuclear strike, or where the threat of a nuclear strike by the UK would shape such a state's actions.

The truth is that we have led the world in decommissioning land mines and now in nuclear weapons. The world is watching us now. Let us be leaders for peace. Whatever the good intentions of the White Paper to ring-fence the budget, I remain concerned that funding will be diverted by future Governments from more pressing defence equipment needs.

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I now leave the Government over this issue. I recognise that others hold equally sincere but opposite views, which I can respect. Perhaps I am a little self-indulgent in that. But others can still not seem to make up their minds, and of them I am less tolerant. To maintain the present Vanguard submarines and delay a replacement decision is not a credible stance, and I shall not vote for such options. I will, however, vote against the White Paper for the reasons that I have given. I go with a heavy heart, but a clear conscience.

Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD)

The Government ask for various practical measures to be taken, but they also ask for a great decision to be taken in principle. The practical measures on which the Government wish to embark are the concept and design work that will keep open the option of having replacements for the Vanguard submarine. The White Paper also refers to participation in the life extension programme for the Trident D5 missiles. If we had before us a simple appropriations motion, seeking the House's approval to proceed with those practical steps, I would have no difficulty whatever in supporting it-but that is not what the Government are asking...

The strategic context is very dangerous, and that makes the forthcoming review conference of the NPT in 2010 all the more important. It should be Britain's objective to play as constructive, positive and progressive a part as it can at that conference, and we have done that in the past...

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but is not the reality that to maintain the deterrent that we have now, we have to send a clear signal to those involved in the industry and in the execution of the work that we have a long-term commitment? If we do not give them that, we will not retain the skills and our capacity. Without that, we can have no future deterrent and we will remain vulnerable to those powers across the world that will continue to develop their nuclear capacity. Unfortunately, because we will not have the knowledge of what they are doing, we will fall even further behind. Is that not an invidious position in which to place this country?

Nick Harvey: We need to establish a policy for Britain and not for British Aerospace. With respect to the hon. Lady, I believe that British companies are guided by the basis of the contracts that they sign. If we sign a contract approving their doing the concept and design work, they will be rather more interested in that rather than our sending some signal. In the process of sending the signal that she wants to be sent, we will send a signal right around the world that Britain was going to remain a nuclear power until 2055. The workers in British Aerospace will be rather more interested in the contract that the Government sign than they will be in getting the signal of the sort that she suggests...

I refer back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie) made earlier. Former President Gorbachev was exactly on the mark when he said that Britain should not make a decision before the 2010 NPT conference. He added:

"The UK Government's rush to deploy nuclear missiles whose service life would extend until 2050 is...astonishing".

He is entirely right. I also refer to the comments of Kofi Annan speaking in November. He recognised the more dangerous strategic context to which I have referred and said:

"We are sleepwalking towards disaster...worse than that-we are asleep at the controls of a fast-moving aircraft. Unless we wake up and take control, the outcome is all too predictable."

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He went on that to say that if Britain took the decision to renew our system now to take us through to 2055, it would inhibit and damage the part that we could play. [ Interruption. ] Yes it is what he said; it is pretty much exactly what he said.

Nick Harvey: The hon. Gentleman says that it is a cop-out and the Defence Secretary rises to his feet. If it is a cop-out, how come that is exactly the way in which the Thatcher Government did it with Trident? When they came to the House and said that they were going to embark on the Trident programme, the concept and design work had already been done, as the White Paper acknowledges. I am calling for the same procedure to be adopted at that stage next time as it has been this year. We have already heard from Members that much of the concept and design work for Trident was carried out in secrecy because the Government did not even want certain members of the Cabinet to hear about it. I applaud the Government for the openness of this procedure. It is good that there has been a White Paper and that there is a parliamentary debate. But they are not asking us to approve the concept and design; they are asking us now, seven years before they are going to let the contracts, to take a decision on the whole thing. It may be the last opportunity that we get for the best part of 50 years.

Nick Harvey: What I am saying is that the final approval of Parliament should be given at the point at which the contract is going to be let, when the money is going to be spent and when we reach the point of no return, as was said by the Defence Committee in its report and is said, in effect, in the White Paper from the Government. There is nothing particularly radical about that view. It is what the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead say. It is the meaning of the amendment that has been selected, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Hemsworth. It seems a perfectly rational view. It is one that many external commentators have picked up on. The Financial Times leader this morning commends exactly that course of action.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"notes the Government's decision, as set out in the White Paper The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent (Cm 6994), to take the steps necessary to maintain the UK minimum strategic nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the existing system and to take further steps towards meeting the United Kingdom's disarmament responsibilities under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but believes that the case is not yet proven and remains unconvinced of the need for an early decision."

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): May I draw to the attention of my hon. Friend a quotation from Eisenhower? He was certainly no sandal-wearing hippy, and he said:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."

In the light of that quote, what role does my hon. Friend think that companies such as British Aerospace have had in our decision-making process?

Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend makes a telling point by referring to a Republican President. There is no doubt at all that British Aerospace has many excellent work people with all kinds of engineering skills. One should pay attention to that skills base. However, it seems that the Government lapse from time to time into the argument that the reason behind the decision is industrial, rather than political or in terms of defence...

I want to move on to address equally specious arguments that have been developed, such as that about the reduction of warheads. Obviously, the destruction of any warhead is a welcome development, so the Secretary of State's announcement in the White Paper-this was reaffirmed today-that the number of warheads would be reduced was good. However, that is not a non-proliferation measure. Everyone who has read the Defence Committee's report knows that the number of warheads active on the seas will still be 48. There will thus be no non-proliferation. While it is welcome that the stockpile of warheads in the UK is being reduced, that is not an argument that we are complying with our legal obligations to engage in non-proliferation. The Select Committee report clearly makes that case.

The Defence Committee was unconvinced about the timing. Paragraph 7 of the conclusions and recommendations of its ninth report says:

"Neither the White Paper nor the exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the US President"-

I will refer to them later-

"explain adequately why decisions on UK participation in the...missile life extension are required by 2007."

If the Select Committee is unconvinced, so am I. Frankly, many aspects of the report argue clearly that it would be possible to delay the decision for some years...

Finally, I want to refer to the exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the President. Some 72 hours after the White Paper came out as a consultation document, the Prime Minister sent a letter, on 7 December, to the President in which he wrote:

"We have therefore...set in train the steps necessary to maintain our current submarine-based nuclear deterrent system".

I asked the Attorney-General's view about the letter because it seemed to be a binding commitment effectively to bring about the process of beginning to rearm. The rest of the two letters referred to the missile system.

The Attorney-General's response failed to convince me that a decision has not already been taken. This afternoon's debate has thus been pre-empted by a Government decision. That is a serious charge to make, but the letters stand in an appendix to a Select Committee report for any Member to have a look at. If that is the case, surely the Government ought to say clearly where we stand legally. Today's edition of The Guardian reports that work has already begun on the process of rearmament. I wonder whether the House's decision has been pre-empted. The Attorney-General's letter tells me that the Government will have regard to any vote of the House today. I hope that the House is the sovereign body in this country. If we were to choose to delay, or to refuse to accept, the decision, I would hope that we had not already entered into an agreement with George Bush that would effectively pre-empt the House.

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con)

First, I would like to go through the arguments against the Government's proposal. This is an awful lot of money to spend on something of doubtful usefulness. At a time when we are funding our armed forces at a peacetime level, this seems an odd priority. We believe that we are the closest allies of the United State of America, and what do we add by buying this deterrent? We add a bit of uncertainty in the minds of the potential aggressor, but that is an awfully expensive bit of uncertainty. And how can we say to North Korea and Iran, "We can, but you can't"? It is not that our going for unilateral nuclear disarmament would have any persuasive power with them-clearly it would not-but making such statements does reduce our moral authority.

The Government have made little attempt to explain how deterrence works. The purpose of having nuclear weapons will have failed if we ever have to use them, yet the only point of having them is that someone might think that we might use them. It is on the basis of such arguments that we are spending 20 billion. When could we use them? Perhaps the only scenario is that the United Kingdom will not know who has exploded a nuclear weapon, and then what would we do? Could we use them in retaliation? I believe that retaliation, as such, is illegal. We can use them to hit back in self-defence, but by the time that we are involved in a nuclear exchange, all thoughts of stopping anyone else from doing anything again will be long dead, along with most of us. Perhaps those rules are suspended in war, but that is far from clear. Legally, perhaps we could only use the weapons if we were firing them in first use, and that is a rather scary prospect.

The Foreign Secretary said that the deterrent was an "insurance policy" against an uncertain threat, but talk of an insurance policy is simply wrong. If someone destroys a house, the purpose of an insurance policy is to pay to rebuild the house; it is not to destroy the house of the person who destroyed it. Let us find a better analogy. The best one that I can think of is a booby trap. The Secretary of State assures us that if someone walks into our "house", there is a likelihood

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that that devastating booby trap, wandering round the oceans of the world, will go off. That is not like any insurance policy of which I have ever heard. In what circumstances could the horribly high rate of collateral damage caused by a nuclear weapon be justified? It is hard to deter those who have a religious conviction that death is better than life, or who are irrational, so the weapons are aimed at a tiny proportion of the threats against us-those from rationally led states. That is not a conclusive argument, but the equipment is very expensive for deterring that sort of threat...

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has expertise as the Chair of the Select Committee on Defence. Could the UK purchase American submarines more cheaply, and delay the decision? I am asking him as an authority on such matters. Would that not be a possible strategy for the UK?

Mr. Arbuthnot: That is a good question, because the Secretary of State for Defence came before the Select Committee and said that there was no certainty that the Americans would sell us nuclear weapons. [Interruption.] Sorry, nuclear submarines.

As for the arguments in favour of the decision, given that other countries are pursuing nuclear weapons, it is an odd time to be disarming unilaterally. While our moral authority may be reduced if we tell Iran to do as we say, and not do as we do, our actual authority is increased by the possession of nuclear weapons. Unilaterally disarming would not have any beneficial effect on non-proliferation. Nobody reduced the number of their warheads when we reduced ours to 200. We gave ourselves moral authority by doing that, but countries such as Iran and North Korea were interested in military authority, not moral authority....

Mr. Arbuthnot: For the reasons that I have given, I have decided to support the proposal. I am not inclined to take the risk of allowing the unilateral nuclear disarmament of this country to send us naked into the conference chamber, as Nye Bevan once put it. The trouble is that those considerations apply just as strongly to Iran as they do to the United Kingdom.

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Why should we expect a proud Iranian nation to go naked into the conference chamber? It is a difficult question. My answer is that we have the world that we have.

We would like a world with no nuclear weapons in it, but there is not the smallest hope of achieving that without gradually reducing the nuclear weapons of those states that have them, while doing our utmost to ensure that no new countries acquire them. Will we succeed? I am sad to say that I doubt it, because I am profoundly pessimistic about the future of the world. Climate change has the capacity to make the planet uninhabitable for humans, and now that nuclear technology has been invented, it will never go away. There are nuclear weapons around, and sooner or later one or more of them will get into the hands of people who we would rather did not have them. We now have the ability to destroy the world, and I regret to say that it is natural human behaviour that when we have the ability to do something, sooner or later we try it out. I believe that that will happen before climate change has had time to do its work.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) (Lab)

I long ago reached the conclusion that nuclear weapons are a disagreeable necessity...

We are living in a highly dangerous world. To throw one's conscience at countries that do not share those liberal values is highly dangerous...

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con)

The House will not be surprised to hear that I agree that we should keep it, although the arguments in favour are quite different from the time when we were debating

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whether to replace Polaris with Trident, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) said, and the case is not as clear cut as it was then. I want to explain why I believe that if we update our deterrent, the sort of deterrent we need will be different from when we took that decision...

It has always been the position of successive Governments that the only way to guarantee one ballistic missile submarine at sea all the time is from a fleet of four. That relates to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South's point about the possibility of an accident. However, if an understanding could be reached whereby the at-sea and, therefore, invulnerable deterrent was shared between ourselves and France at times, it seems to me possible, or even likely, that each of us could manage with one submarine fewer. Such an arrangement need not in any way affect the integrity or independence of our deterrent, nor need there be any degradation of the security relating to targeting, pay loads, patrol patterns or anything else. It would simply involve an agreement over the timing of the departure and return of each country's deterrent patrol. There would thus be a guarantee of a European deterrent at sea in the unlikely event of a surprise or short-notice nuclear attack. Such a scenario may seem unlikely or even impossible as we speak, but we are talking about the uncertainties, both strategic and political, of the next 30 or 40 years...

The second area where I believe the change in the type of threat merits a change in the operation of the deterrent is over the size of any submarines. We can

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reduce their size and we do not need as many tubes. If we can get some sort of synergy between the next generation of ballistic submarines and the next generation of hunter-killer submarines, there are huge potential cost savings.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab)

The end of the cold war brought a window of opportunity to make real progress in fully implementing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The tragedy is that this is not the way in which it is turning out. In recent years, there has been growing disillusionment among the non-nuclear weapons states. They fear that the nuclear weapons states are not prepared to fulfil their disarmament obligations. The world's non-proliferation mechanisms desperately need strengthening. That window of opportunity still exists...

No country is better placed than Britain to make a major contribution internationally in this field. After all, neither Britain nor western Europe is subject to any

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direct military threat and the Government have stated that no such threat is foreseen. This is the time when Britain should be taking the initiative to encourage nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. It is profoundly depressing that the Government want to procure a new generation of Trident.

The decision to buy a new generation of Trident would damage non-proliferation efforts. After all, we have an obligation to move towards complete disarmament, and making provision to renew Trident clearly runs counter to that obligation. We seek to persuade non-nuclear weapons states not to pursue nuclear weapons programmes, and we seek to persuade the international community of the need to strengthen the world's non-proliferation mechanisms. Those exhortations will be met with increasing cynicism if, at the same time as we make them, we buy a new generation of Trident. It will not be just our credibility that is damaged-faith in the world's non-proliferation regimes will be further undermined. By renewing Trident we will effectively say to other countries that nuclear weapons are so vital that we are prepared to spend billions of pounds to make sure that we have them in the 2020s and beyond, even though the Government admit that we do not face a foreseeable direct military threat. Far from persuading other nations to remain non-nuclear, we will send a signal that nuclear weapons are vital.

The Government argue that we should renew Trident, not because of any foreseeable threat, but because we cannot accurately predict the nature of the world in 30 or 50 years' time. Surely, the same is true for any country in the world. Germany, Japan and Egypt, for example, do not know what threats will face them in the 2020s and beyond. There is nothing in the Government's justification for renewing Trident that does not apply to every country in the world. That clearly undermines our argument that non-nuclear weapon states should continue to forgo nuclear weapons. The Government rightly say that we do not know what the future holds, but we can be sure that a decision not to renew Trident would avoid the damage that would be done to non-proliferation efforts if we go ahead with renewal.

I would like the UK to decommission Trident. Other countries have given up nuclear weapons: South Africa abandoned its nuclear programme, as has Libya, and Ukraine got rid of its nuclear weapons too. We applauded those countries for the course that they took. None of the countries that abandoned their nuclear programmes are any less secure, and neither would we be. Indeed, Britain would be a safer place if we did not renew Trident because, first, we would avoid the detrimental impact of Trident renewal on the non-proliferation regimes and, secondly, we could spend our defence budget more effectively. Instead of spending 20 billion on renewing Trident and 1.5 every year running it, Britain could put more resources into defence equipment and operations more relevant to our security needs in the 21st century.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

The effective decision to replace Trident is premature, it has not been fully considered, and it is not justified. The debate is not about being for or against nuclear weapons. I was strongly supportive of Trident and our other nuclear deterrents during the cold war. Trident will be with us for the next twenty years, and possibly longer, so that is not the issue.

This debate is about the deterrent which, in 17 years' time, we will bequeath to the next generation. None of us can predict what international relationships will be like so far ahead, yet we are being asked to make a full commitment to a highly expensive weapons system that, in the event, could prove ineffective as a deterrent and is questionable in its justification. We are committing not ourselves but the next generation, who may have very different views on deterrence and, indeed, on which defence priorities we should spend the massive sums involved...

There are three key questions. First, do we need a deterrent? My answer is yes. In an uncertain world, it is surely better to deter aggression than to respond to it after it has occurred. To be successful, however, a deterrent must be proportionate to the perceived threat; it must be clearly effective and credible; and therefore need never be used. Belief in the aggressor's mind that there is the will if necessary to use that deterrent is essential to its credibility, which is why it must be proportionate. Cold war deterrents worked because the balanced threat of mutually assured destruction and the nuclear doctrine between two rational enemies who understood the consequences assured its success. Any future deterrent must be powerful enough to create fear in the potential enemy; its nature must be such that the enemy believes we would really use it if attacked; hence it must proportionate to the threat that the enemy poses.

The next question, which is crucial, is: does the deterrent need to be nuclear?

Since 1989 things have dramatically changed. The enemy today and in the future is unclear and its threat is unquantifiable. Proponents of replacing Trident argue that there might be a revival of the Russian confrontation. That is a pretty long shot. Even longer is the scenario of a new cold war-style ideologically-driven nuclear arms race where our nuclear deterrent would once again become relevant. The only ideological conflict that I can see is one where it would not be a deterrent anyway, because of the nature of that ideology. We are told that Trident is an insurance against such remote possibilities, but 20 billion is a pretty hefty premium against a pretty unlikely threat.

Today's and, I suspect, tomorrow's threats come more from international terrorism and so-called rogue states. Iran is sometimes cited as encompassing both. Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that she could pose a nuclear threat to the United Kingdom. Does the House really believe that a British Government, even in response to an attack, would in the 21st century be prepared to obliterate Tehran? I do not believe that and, more importantly, I do not believe the Iranians believe it, yet that is the stark key to successful deterrence, and if that belief does not exist, it is not a deterrent...

To me, Trident was a deterrent of the 20th century; it is not a deterrent of the 21st. We should be looking for something more proportionate and therefore more credible, and that might well not be nuclear. If we need time to do that, we should make that time...

If the deterrent is nuclear, should it be Trident?

... In fairness to the generation upon whom we are effectively seeking to dump an irreversible commitment to "son of Trident", we should at least show that we have examined the options before doing so. I believe and have argued previously that before the House takes a final decision, we need a senior independent examination of and report on all the options, not just those in the White Paper. The decision is far too important to railroad through the House.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)

Defeating the Government tonight-which is what must be the intention, in all honesty, of anyone who

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votes against them-could so reduce our party's credibility as to contribute to a Labour defeat at the next election... Futile gestures can be personally satisfying, but what do they get us? I will tell the House what they get us: 18 years in opposition. It is one thing to revisit the scene of the crime; it is quite another to revisit the scene of the suicide.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con)

We now know that, during the Gulf war, the United States made it clear to Saddam Hussein that, if he used the chemical weapons that he had at that time, he would invite a similar response. There is every reason to believe that that carried considerable credibility...

In the context of half a century, we cannot assume that the nuclear umbrella that the United States has provided will necessarily continue to be available...

We live in a difficult and uncertain world...

We know already that some Governments have been willing to provide terrorist organisations with the most vicious armaments. It is those Governments whom we can deter by making clear, as we must, that in the event of any attack involving weapons of mass destruction-certainly nuclear weapons-we would not simply go for the terrorists concerned. We would go for those who had supplied them as well, even-especially-if they were Governments who did not accept the proper international constraints...

It is not as if we are saying that progress towards multilateral disarmament is either undesirable or unattainable...

The Government deserve the House's support not because this decision will be irreversible, but because it gives a clear indication of our national intent.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)

Now we are faced with new dangers and new threats from international terrorism and potential rogue states that would seek to undermine international security by sponsoring acts of terrorism, which could involve dirty bombs and nuclear weapons...

we are renewing the insurance policy...

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

Even thus far in this debate, I have detected that there is still that underlying argument about Britain deserving the best, because I think that ultimately this argument is about not deterrence, but Britain's place in the world. It is about virility and vanity, aspiring still to that superpower status, and saying, "We need a submarine platform, ultra-ballistic missile system, and Trident is still the best, so that's the one that Britain should have."

The Foreign Secretary tells us that that system amounts to only 1 per cent. of the nuclear weapons in the world and that we are negotiating that away to virtually nothing. In fact there are, according to the Foreign Secretary, so few warheads left in the Trident system that I sometimes wonder why on earth we have it in the first place... Perhaps we could have a virtual nuclear deterrent in order to have deterrence. The destructive force of the real Trident system-the destructive force that is still available-is awe-inspiring and deadly, and, as several Members have said, when we think about it possibly being used, that force is calamitous...

Members will recall that Scotland is, after all, to be the scene of the deployment of this new weapons system for the next 50 years, so what the people of Scotland think about it might be of some interest and concern to the House. It is not just that 80 per cent. of people oppose it; throughout Scottish civic society, people are pointing out, led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, that it is unacceptable. Some Labour MSPs make the mistake of saying that there will be a jobs boost. They claim that 11,000 jobs will be created, but unfortunately, parliamentary answers in this House reveal that the figure is 1,300. The cost works out at 5 million a job. As the Scottish TUC has pointed out, the alternative cost is the many thousands of jobs anywhere in the public sector that could be generated by such a figure.

However, there are not just economic arguments but moral arguments, too. Scotland's Cardinal, Keith O'Brien, has written to me enclosing a statement not just from the Catholic Church in Scotland, but from all the Christian Churches in Scotland: the Church of Scotland, the Quakers, the United Free Church, the United Reform Church, and the Scottish Episcopal Church. Talking about the Churches coming together to make such a statement, our Cardinal said:

"I think you would be right in saying in your own statement to Parliament that this is a unique even in the history of the Christian Churches in Scotland"...

When people in this House say that there is no possibility that Iran or North Korea-or even the French-would respond to our renunciation of nuclear weapons by doing the same, they miss the point entirely. They miss the encouragement that will be given to proliferation if we go ahead and invest in a system for the next 50 years...

Mr. Salmond: The point is well made, and of course, it is not just Mohamed el-Baradei; Mikhail Gorbachev and Hans Blix have made very similar arguments, pointing out the dangers in terms of proliferation if the Government go ahead with this disastrous course of action...

In a world of 200 nations, 10 of which are nuclear powers and 190 of which are not, I would like an independent Scotland to be one of the 190, not one of the 10. The desultory argument that has been made is that unless we have nuclear weapons, we will be threatened. If the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), for whom I have great respect, had been the Defence Minister of the state of Iran, he could have put forward exactly the same argument: "We will be threatened unless we acquire a nuclear deterrent." It was said earlier by the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman that we should understand

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why the state of Israel requires nuclear weapons, but that is against every international agreement. Every country in the world could say, "We are under threat, we require nuclear weapons." The path on which that argument would set us is not to 10 countries having nuclear weapons, but-given their declining cost-to 100 or 150 having nuclear weapons. Do we really think that in those circumstances, any form of international agreement would stop a nuclear exchange?

It is really important that we try to exert whatever moral force we can towards the de-escalation of the nuclear threat. My point about the Prime Minister is that he said that there was a serious risk of Scottish independence. We believe that it is a fantastic opportunity, but if it is a serious risk, why do people want to put their nuclear weapons in a country that could shortly be independent? Is that really a risk that this House would like to take? I can tell the House that this is something up with which the people of Scotland will not put. Surely in those circumstances the safe course of action for the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea, now that he no longer sits for a Scottish constituency, would be to advocate that the replacement of the weapons system be sited on the River Thames, as opposed to the River Clyde.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab)

Like others, I do not believe that the Government have adequately or convincingly answered certain fundamental questions about renewing Trident, in particular its true cost, why a decision has to be taken now, whom it is meant to deter, and how it is genuinely compatible with non-proliferation.

Nor has there been a real opportunity to obtain fuller answers, because the process of consultation has been unjustifiably squeezed. There is an unmistakable sense in this latest exercise that both Parliament and the electorate are being bounced into this decision. I still believe that there is a strong case for further and fuller consultation of the electorate before such a momentous decision-which will cost taxpayers some 6 per cent. of GDP-is made...

Mr. Meacher: I am pleased to see the widespread support that I receive-at least on one side of the House! I would certainly reopen this decision, as I believe that consultation has not been adequate. I would like to see a consultation along the lines of the first strategic defence review, which lasted for a year-1997 to 98, I believe-as nothing less would be right now. On that basis, and taking account of all the relevant options-they have not all been put sufficiently to the electorate-I believe that we should have a further two-day parliamentary debate. I give an absolute commitment that I would abide by the result. I believe that it would provide a fresh and genuine mandate...

No one-certainly not me-supports the view that Britain can unilaterally bring about nuclear disarmament worldwide. That is a complete canard. Of course we cannot, but there is a window of opportunity. Most experts agree that there is no requirement for an immediate decision to be taken on this issue before at least 2014. That gives us an invaluable opportunity to take the lead, which is what I think we should do, in trying to set up a multinational, multilateral nuclear disarmament conference embracing not only the existing nuclear states but also the non-nuclear states who might be tempted to go down this route, in order to give a decisive multilateral push to halting nuclear proliferation.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD)

If anyone is still wondering why there is a rush to make a decision now, the answer is clear. The Americans are extending the life of their D5 Trident missiles and they want answers in 2007. They need to know whether we are willing to join them. There is no pressing military, political, technical or other reason to make the decision now. The only reason we are being bounced into this decision is because of the current Prime Minister and his wish to leave the country's hands tied long after he has gone. It is not the submarines that are reaching the end of their shelf life; it is the Prime Minister...

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)

Mr. Graham Stuart: Does the hon. Gentleman think that the world would be a safer place if all western democracies unilaterally gave up all nuclear weapons?

John McDonnell: I believe that it would be a more dangerous place if we invested in a new phase of nuclear development; it is as simple as that. Our job is to promote security and peace, not to undermine it. There is a feeling in our country that the Prime Minister has avoided the meaningful, widespread consultation and debate that a decision of this magnitude deserves. Complaints have been made in the House today about decisions being bounced. There are allegations of a done deal with President Bush and the pre-emption of the parliamentary vote. That does not convey the impression that the country is at ease with the decision-making process that the Labour leadership has fixed on for this critical policy decision, and that is no way to determine a fundamental policy that will affect the lives of the next generation.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)

We need a decision on the issue now. I stand by the three reports that the Defence Committee, of which I am a member, has taken a year to prepare. They lead me to make various conclusions. I regret that the Government did not participate in the Committee's first report, because that meant they failed to consider publicly the threats the UK faces and how they might evolve in the future, which the House should consider.

At present, I am the only Member of the House who is a member of the General Synod of the Church of England, and I think it is extremely important that we should listen to the message sent by the established Church. It is because it is the established Church that it should make its views clear. The Church of England did not simply say that it was opposed to any kind of nuclear deterrent. The Archbishop of Canterbury said:

"I believe that the least a Christian body ought to do in these circumstances is to issue the strongest possible warnings and discouragements to our Government."

He made a strong moral case against nuclear weapons in general. Of course, his views are not unanimous. On 11 October, the Bishop of Liverpool said:

"Nuclear knowledge can't be unlearnt, its evil genie of weaponry can't be sucked back into the test tube. It's a fact of the modern world, as factual as those sinister imaginations that can not only contemplate human terror but actually inflict it."

The Bishop of Rochester, writing in The Sunday Telegraph under the heading "I believe in Trident, and using it if necessary", said:

"The task of the Churches...is to resource the debate by setting out the moral criteria which need attention rather than trying to make Government policy from the sidelines."

I concur absolutely. Last week, I took part in a debate in Synod where I made it clear that I believe we should proceed with Trident.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

Many right hon. and hon. Members tonight have acknowledged that the cold war is over, but the White Paper on the future of Trident is still rooted in cold war thinking. It makes no real analysis of the future role of the US-led and nuclear-armed NATO alliance of which we are a part, nor of the new Europe in which we live. It is a mass of assertions with no attempt to examine how best to approach security in a world where climate change and competition for resources and markets will be paramount...

The third threat posed in the White Paper is that countries might sponsor nuclear terrorism from their soil. This, frankly, is the most preposterous assertion of nuclear deterrence. Do we really believe that the dirty bomb in the suitcase is going to have a survivable country-of-origin label on it? We all know that suicidal terrorists cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons and they know that it would be impossible immediately to identify a sponsoring state so as to justify nuclear retaliation...

The White Paper asserts continually the deterrent value of British nuclear weapons without advancing a single plausible threat scenario. But it is not even that simple. As the Prime Minister wrote to George Bush last December, in the letter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) referred, the new British nuclear weapons coming into service in 20 years' time would be assigned to NATO, as now. With the end of the cold war and an expanded Europe, do we really think that we would get agreement from all our allies to use British weapons of mass destruction? Or that the US would not intervene if Britain wanted to act independently but that did not suit the US? It is just not credible...

At the 2000 non-proliferation treaty review, Britain made

"an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons".

Tonight, however, we have been asked to spend billions of pounds and years of endeavour so that we can deploy new weapons of mass destruction to patrol the seas until 2050...

A weapons system is credible only if it can be used, and I have not heard any argument showing how Trident could be used to our advantage. I know the consequences of using it, however-thousands of innocent people would be vaporised; millions would die in agony; and radiation would persist for generations. The health and environmental consequences are incalculable: I have never been willing to be party to such a barbarous act, and I will not support my Government tonight.

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab)

First, the decision does not need to be made now, and the argument that it must is an effort to embarrass the Liberal Democrats and is not credible. The Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's Question Time that the next Parliament could revisit the decision, which makes it clear that the decision does not have to be made tonight... The Prime Minister is trying to lock the Labour party into policies that he supports, and the Chancellor is suddenly trying to prove that he is tough on security by spinning on the back of a speech about the economy his support for a replacement for Trident, without any proper debate about Britain's foreign policy and its role in the world after the disastrous mistakes in Iraq.

Secondly, there is no argument in the White Paper, in the Prime Minister's introduction to the White Paper, or in the speech by the Conservative spokesman, that could not be reasonably made by Iran and many other countries...

The third reason why the UK should reconsider its approach to nuclear weapons is that they chain us into the role of US poodle... I do not believe for a moment that we should seek to fall out with the United States. We have a long shared history, a common language and so on. However, every post-war Prime Minister apart from Edward Heath, bless him-because he was so focused on entrenching us in the European Union-has been obsessed with the special relationship as the centrepiece of our foreign policy. Why? It goes back to Britain losing an empire and failing to find a role. We are not the big power that we used to be, but we are best friends with the biggest power in the world, so if we can get a weapon from the US and stand alongside it, we are still important and powerful. That is an almost pathetic role to see for ourselves in the world. It is like the child who is frightened of others and therefore makes best friends with the biggest bully in the playground...

Lots of the speeches that have been made today have sought to re-run the old arguments about unilateral nuclear disarmament, but that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about whether we commit ourselves to replacing our weapon in 20 years' time or whether we could look for a strategy that uses our influence and our willingness to disarm to strengthen non-proliferation, with a stronger multilateral system, greater equity, more authority for the United Nations and a just settlement in the middle east.

What Britain needs is an independent foreign policy to make a real contribution in the world and to make up for the humiliation that we imposed on ourselves with our dreadful policy on Iraq. To decide to replace Trident in 20 years' time is to continue to tie us to that mistake and continue to humiliate our country.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op)

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the work force in my constituency at DML and at the dockyard would not accept the argument that the issue of the industrial skills base is specious? It is important that we take the decision now; otherwise, we will lose those skilled workers to the domestic sector, not the maritime industrial sector.

Linda Gilroy: I accept my hon. Friend's argument and will go on to make it in more detail...

I believe that retention gives us a more powerful hand in working for non-proliferation. ... We should maintain the multilateralist position of seeking something for something, not something for nothing. The arguments are, at heart, not only simple but the same as they have always been: something for something, or something for nothing; multilateralism versus unilateralism.

For the reasons that I have set out, all the amendments tabled today-including the one that has been selected-would result in back-door unilateralism, even though people do not quite understand that...

Knowing the risks of letting the skill base fall apart, only those who believe in giving away something for nothing-unilateralists-

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should go on into the Aye Lobby on the amendment. Multilateralists cannot credibly share the same lobby with them.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)

Incidentally, those who support the "delay" amendment, notably the Liberal Democrats, are merely fooling themselves, or fooling the people out there. This evening we must reach a decision: either we support the notion of nuclear deterrence, or we do not. While I respect the argument of those who say that we do not, it is not my argument.

I do not believe that even those who have spoken from the CND standpoint believe that the world would be a safer place if we abolished nuclear weapons. We all know perfectly well that if we did away with them, or indeed with conventional weapons-for the same argument applies to them-the world would be a worse place, not a better place.

It is with a heavy heart, in a sense-because I personally feel unhappy about these matters-that I concluded that I would support the Government this evening.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab)

One of the key points made to me has been that if the United Kingdom renews its Trident submarine, it will breach the non-proliferation treaty. I do not accept that that is the case, and I think the public should be told loudly that it is not the case...

If Mr. Gorbachev has lessons to teach the British, he also has lessons to teach the Russians. The song he is singing now is not the song he was singing when I met him in Moscow many years ago. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is about trying to de-escalate nuclear dependency. It is in that context that the world's courts must interpret it. We must strongly say that...

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

Like a previous speaker, I have received not a single letter from any of my constituents urging me to vote with the Government tonight in favour of replacing Trident. However, not for one moment do I think that there is not a strong understanding in my constituency and throughout the country of the need for this House

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to vote in favour of a replacement tonight...

A number of constituents and local church and environmental groups have contacted me, expressing concern about, and opposition to, the notion that we should support replacing Trident. I do not intend to discuss all the various arguments, a number of which have already been covered more than adequately, but one idea that has some currency in the country is that Parliament has not been given enough opportunities to examine rigorously all the issues affecting the decision that we are about to take. That notion has been scotched well and truly, however.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

We should not be bounced into taking a decision here tonight that pre-empts the sort of informed debate that needs to happen before the House can take a properly objective and science-based decision.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD)

In the current uncertain international situation and all the threats of proliferation, I believe that this is no time for Britain to give up its nuclear deterrent...

What I find puzzling is the Government's proposal to declare now that we will proceed to build replacement Trident submarines after the conclusion of those talks, irrespective of their outcome. That is a proposal whose logic I simply cannot understand. In order to maintain Britain's nuclear deterrent, the only decisions that need to be taken now are to participate in the missile life extension programme and to commence the initial concept and design work for the replacements to our Vanguard-class submarines. I believe that the Government should authorise that work. However, I do not support the Government's decision now, which is far too premature, to build a new generation of submarines some time in the middle of the next decade...

As I said in response to the intervention, I fully support the Liberal Democrat proposal of an immediate cut in Britain's nuclear arsenal of 50 per cent. to reinvigorate multilateral disarmament talks and re-energise the negotiations. The remaining warheads would be sufficient to provide Britain with a credible deterrent.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

I remind the House that a few years ago we debated with great earnestness the situation in Iraq in relation to weapons of mass destruction. A nuclear weapon is automatically a weapon of mass destruction. It cannot be targeted individually at a military target. It can be used only to destroy a whole area and to kill a very large number of people. It has no deterrent effect whatsoever. We are promoting this position largely through a sense of vanity, rather than anything else. If we pass the resolution tonight to endorse the Government's position, we will be set on a road that is both costly and illegal.

I want to make two points about the law relating to this issue. There is something called international humanitarian law and there are two important principles that are part of it. First, there is the general rule that a party to an armed conflict must always seek to distinguish between the civilian population and the combatants. A weapon that is incapable of drawing such a distinction is unlawful under international humanitarian law. A nuclear weapon cannot, by its very nature, make that distinction. Secondly, there is the principle that a party is entitled to use only that force that is required to achieve a legitimate military objective. A weapon that is bound uselessly to aggravate the suffering of combatants is unlawful under international humanitarian law...

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I would also make the point that in 1996, the International Court of Justice ruled that

"the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be generally contrary to the rules of international law applicable to armed conflict and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law."

We face an important decision tonight. Either we endorse this vast expenditure, or we encourage a public debate that I believe will come down on the side of sanity, sense and peace in the world, and we do not go ahead with this vast expenditure that can lead only to a more dangerous world.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con)

There is considerable misunderstanding in the House about what we are deciding. The Foreign Secretary's comments that we are not committing ourselves irreversibly to a nuclear deterrent, but are taking steps to maintain a nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the existing system, are important...

There are three points that I would like the Secretary of State for Defence to clarify in simple terms that can be understood by hon. Members, especially those who have concerns about the proposal. We need a justification for why the decision needs to be taken now...

We need to know whether the replacement of any part of the deterrent will remain solely and completely in the control of the UK. We also need to know whether the process would harm or compromise any part of the non-proliferation treaty. Will we continue to pursue a reduction in nuclear weapons and will multilateral disarmament continue to be our aim?

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) probably summed up my view almost word for word: with some unhappiness, it is yes to the decision tonight...

Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab)

Twelve months ago, when the Defence Committee started its first inquiry on Trident, I adopted a fairly sceptical approach. However, several issues have become clearer to me over those 12 months, principally the question of the timing of the decision. Believe me, if I thought that it was reasonable to delay the decision until after the next election, I would be voting for that tonight and I would have been urging the Select Committee to make that one of its recommendations. However, we must consider the industrial base and skills that are required. All the advice that we received from the UK military said that the process would take 17 years. Our first report questioned why the time period was 17 years rather than 14 years, which was the case at the time of the 1980 decision. We have heard a good explanation for that-although the initial design and conceptual work had been done prior to 1980, it has not yet been done at this stage...

It would be undemocratic if we made a decision today that made it impossible for the people of this country to elect, in three years' time, a Government who could build a new Trident successor. If the White Paper had put forward the view that we should not replace Trident, I would have expected an honourable Government such as ours to recommend that the design work and work on the initial concept still went ahead, so that if, in three years' time, a Government were elected who wanted to retain the nuclear deterrent, they would have the capacity to do so. If we do anything other than back the Government motion tonight, we will go against the manifesto commitment that more than 600 Members...

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)

I shall briefly deal with the main arguments against the motion. The first is that we set a bad example by renewing Trident and that we weaken our hand as regards non-proliferation. I do not accept that, and I do not believe that we are in breach of our non-proliferation obligations by renewing what we already have; that is not proliferation. I do not accept that we weaken the message that we send, or that we send the wrong message.

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The wrong message to send would be a refusal to renew Trident. At this moment in history, that would send precisely the wrong message-a message of weakness when we need to project strength. It would also be a message of complete irrelevance, because I do not believe for a second that if our country gave up what amounts to 1 per cent. of the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons, it would affect anyone's judgment in any way...

I shall vote cautiously. I will not take chances with our national security, nor will I play political games with it. I shall vote for the Government's motion.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)

My support for the new programme is not based simply on its economic benefits for the south-west defence-based industries, although understanding the complexity of the procurement process and the nature of their highly skilled work has informed my position...

Leaving until later a decision on the go-ahead for submarines capable of launching the missiles-the decision is about giving the go-ahead for the submarine procurement process-could leave the UK facing an enemy with one arm tied behind its back...

Delaying the decision would be disastrous on defence grounds...

In Plymouth, a city associated with the armed forces and one of the cities most heavily bombed during world war two, we understand the deterrence process. Equally, we understand the importance of the SSBN-ship submersible ballistic nuclear-programme to the economy of our city and the wider south-west, as well as to the UK's maritime industrial base. My colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), has already made that case well. I can but reiterate the point that the importance of a decision to continue with Trident-on what is generally seen throughout the House as the most effective delivery platform for the missiles-cannot be understated.

What we have in Plymouth is unique and what the defence industry requires is also unique. Admittedly, our skills could be used in other fields, but only the Ministry of Defence buys submarines and wants maintenance programmes for them. In Plymouth, we have the skills. Submarines cannot be conjured out of thin air if the strategic position changes at a future date...

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con)

The question before the House is very simple. We are being asked whether we want the Government to proceed with the preparation of the continuation of our nuclear deterrent in some years' time or not. Any amendment or rejection of the motion will mean that the House has instructed the Government not to continue with the concept, work and preparation of the submarines...

My only other comment is about the strategic context. The hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) said that the world was watching us today. The one way of making sure that the world will watch us no longer and give us no influence is to wantonly throw away the influence we have. By wantonly throwing away possession of our nuclear weapons, we will give something for nothing. I commend the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) who dealt with the proliferation point extremely well. If we throw away our weapons, the world will watch us no more and will take no interest in anything that our Government have to say...

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab)

I hope that Front-Bench Members recognise that when someone like me votes against the Government and resigns as a parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Health, it is not an easy decision. It has been a hard decision, but I believed that I should come to the House to explain it.

As the House is aware, Robin Cook was my predecessor. The week before he died in August 2005, the very last article he wrote was in The Guardian on this subject. He said:

"It was the Wilson government of the 60s that built, launched and named the Polaris fleet. It was Jim Callaghan who first struck the Trident deal with President Carter... There could not be a more convincing way for Tony Blair to break from the past and to demonstrate that he is a true moderniser than by making the case that nuclear weapons now have no relevance to Britain's defences in the modern world... the spirit of the cold war lives on in the minds of those who cannot let go of fear and who need an enemy to buttress their own identity. Hence the vacuum left by the cold war has been filled by George Bush's global war on terror...nuclear weapons are hopelessly irrelevant to that terrorist threat. The elegant theories of deterrence all appear beside the point in the face of a suicide bomber who actively courts martyrdom. And if we ever were deluded enough to wreak our revenge by unleashing a latter-day Hiroshima on a Muslim city, we would incite fanatical terrorism against ourselves for a generation."

I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence sums up, he gives some indication of when he would see a nuclear weapon being used.

The article pointed out that

"all levels of the Trident system depend on US cooperation. The missiles are not even owned by us, but are leased from the Pentagon in an arrangement that Denis Healey once dubbed as 'rent-a-rocket'. Renewing our collaboration with the US on nuclear weapons will deepen the bonds between Downing Street and the White House, at the very time when the rest of the nation longs for a more independent stance."

It is absurd that Britain should maintain its nuclear weapons to guarantee its security while lecturing Iran, et al, that the safety of the world will be compromised if they behave in the same way. Despite the anxieties about proliferation, more nations have given up nuclear

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weapons in the last generation than have developed them. It has been pointed out that Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine and South Africa have given up weapons, and none of them regard themselves as less safe or secure than before; nor need we if the leadership can find the courage to allow Trident to be the end of Britain's futile and costly obsession with nuclear weapon status.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con)

the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) asked what it would be like to have a facility like Faslane in the Thames valley. If he came and stood in my bedroom -[ Interruption ]-a remote possibility, I grant, and looked across the Kennet valley, which is part of the Thames valley, he would see the rooftops and chimneys of the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston, which I revere for the work that it has done to safeguard this country's security in times past and, I hope, in times future.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand when I say that I wish that that facility did not exist. More precisely, I wish that we lived in a world in which the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston did not need to exist. Unfortunately, however, we live in the real world, not in a utopian one. If the hon. Gentleman came with me to the hill above my house, and looked further into the distance, he would see Greenham common, which is a living, breathing example of the peace dividend. More people work there in real jobs than were stationed there at the height of the cold war. The arguments around the perimeter of Greenham common now are about planning issues and whether the missile silo should house a museum or be used as a storage site for cars. That achievement demonstrates previous Governments' strength of purpose and the support and the sacrifice on the part of Members on both sides of the House...

When one compares the evidence of Professor Garwin, supported by the Oxford Research Group, with that of organisations such as the Royal United Services Institute and, more

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importantly, the Royal Navy, the evidence comes down firmly on the Government's side of the argument.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

I support the retention of Britain's nuclear deterrent. I also support the renewal of Britain's nuclear deterrent. I am sorry that the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and me was not selected. The choice before us today is to take no decision at all or to take an irrevocable decision to continue with Trident as our platform for nuclear deterrence over the next 40 years...

As things stand, we may have a Trident system that lasts until a few years away from the time when we claim that we will have reduced our carbon emissions by 60 per cent. from 1990 levels and will be living in a different world and a different economy. We need to take decisions on design and concept, and on the future, but I am not convinced by the argument that we should commit ourselves irrevocably today. I do not believe that future investment hangs on this decision. I do believe, however, that a vote in Parliament before final commissioning, in addition to a decision to go ahead with development of concept and design, is the right way forward. I hope hon. Members will reflect on that when they consider our deterrent in future.

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD)

I believe in the deterrence theory. It has worked for

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decades to protect our country. Although I believe that, I also want to seize every opportunity to negotiate those massive weapons away. To me, the crucial question in this debate is whether the White Paper adds to the non-proliferation talks. Does it make it more likely that we will have a successful round of talks in 2010? The answer is clear. Without doubt, the White Paper is a barrier to progress.

The Defence Committee, which has been mentioned on numerous occasions this afternoon, was right to criticise the Government for failing to have a strong strategy for nuclear non-proliferation. The preparations for those talks in 2010 start next month. There is no indication that sufficient emphasis has been placed on the talks. The White Paper devotes many more pages to justifying why the UK needs to renew its deterrent than to setting out its ambitions for disarmament. What hope do we have if the Government have already given up on those talks in 2010? What hope do we have if this Parliament decides prematurely to renew Trident? The Government seem determined not to give the talks a chance. The message that will be sent to Iran and North Korea by the Government deciding to proceed today is: "Do as we say, not as we do."

As I said in my opening remarks, the real test in this debate is whether the White Paper furthers the cause of nuclear disarmament. That is why we reject the premature bid to renew Trident...

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

Today we live in, if anything, a more dangerous world than ever, but if this evening this House takes a vote in principle to go forward with Trident, we will make it even more dangerous. That is partly because the vote will be premature and partly because we will not be doing it on the basis of full information, including scientific information. I refer the House to what Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, said on this issue:

"the more those States that already have"

nuclear weapons

"increase their arsenals, or insist that such weapons are essential to their national security, the more other States feel that they too must have them, for their security."


In reading past debates on this issue, I came across a quote from the current Chancellor, then the Member for Dunfermline, East, who said about Trident that it is

"unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound."-[ Official Report, 19 June 1984; Vol. 62, c. 188.]

I defer to no one in my admiration for the Chancellor. He was right then, and what he said he is even more right today.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con)

It has also been argued that we should extend the life of the Vanguard class submarines, but placing them in dry dock, replacing their reactors and carrying out complete refits would cost more than buying new submarines. That argument does not hold water. Nuclear powered submarines, be they Vanguard class or Ohio class, are as complicated as the space shuttle. That is why they cost so much money, and why we have to take care about what we buy. I wonder whether we should be looking to the Vanguard class or the Astute class of submarines for a more versatile platform that can fire Tomahawk missiles as well, as that would provide a bigger threshold for utilising the submarines in a different way.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate. In the past three months, I have received hundreds of campaign postcards, letters and e-mails that are against the replacement of Trident. To date, I have not received a single letter in support of its replacement. That is a clear indication of the strength of public opinion in my home city of Glasgow and in Scotland against the replacement programme...

Lord Kinnock, who ended our party's commitment to unilateral disarmament, has said that the Government have failed to make the political, technical or military case for enhancing Britain's weapon system. He is right. The Government have not made the case for the need to replace Trident and for that decision to be made now.

I want to ask right hon. and hon. Members one question: why do we believe that it is right for Britain, the United States of America and Israel to possess weapons of mass destruction and expand their nuclear weapons arsenals, but that it is not right for other nations to develop nuclear weapons? Is it because we have more wisdom, because we are more responsible or because we are a rich nation? If we spent the billions of pounds that we are spending on war and our nuclear arsenal on alleviating poverty, we would live in a safer world.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

We live in a very different world now, however. In the 1980s, during the cold war, I was eventually persuaded to accept acquisition. I did so as a multilateral disarmer: I believed that the only real purpose for which the possession of such weapons could be countenanced was to get rid of them. I think that some justification for that position was provided by the progress that we made in the late 1980s and the 1990s, but, as I have said, the world today is very different. The threats to world security no longer come from superpower blocs; they come from regional conflicts, from rogue states and from cellular terrorist organisations.

In recent years, the arguments in favour of possession of nuclear weapons have become progressively thinner. A number of Members have spoken today about the position of Iran. I think that one of the major motivations for Iran's seeking to become a nuclear power-which, like everyone else, I deplore-is the fact that Israel is believed to be a nuclear power. That is the way it goes. I think it is the major flaw in the argument we have heard from the Conservatives today, the ultimate logic of which is that eventually every sovereign state will have the right, and indeed the obligation, to become a nuclear state.

What the Government are asking of us today is of a different order from what I have been prepared to live with in recent years. They are talking not about maintenance, but about renewal and extension. If we approach the argument on a pragmatic rather than a principled basis, that is where the tipping point shifts. Where will be our moral authority to attend the nuclear non-proliferation treaty talks in 2010 if we back the Government's position today?

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab)

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The White Paper is full of assertions. Our friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) made that point. It asserts, as if it were a truth, that

"Renewing the current Trident system is fully consistent with the NPT and with all our international legal obligations."

I simply do not believe that.

When I asked Ministers three weeks ago to supply me with the Attorney-General's advice-the legal advice that allowed the Prime Minister and the Government to say that-I was told that it was confidential. I am not prepared to take these matters on trust, not after Iraq, not after weapons of mass destruction and not after the "45 minutes" assertion. If the Prime Minister came here and told us that we had to invade Iran, do you think the military would go along with that without having sight of the Attorney-General's-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to draw the Speaker into the argument. That is one thing that I will not allow.

Mr. Prentice: I do not think it possible that the Prime Minister could persuade the House of Commons to embark on a military adventure against another country without tabling the Attorney-General's opinion. I think that this is such an important matter, for all the reasons that we have heard during this long debate, that it is unacceptable for the Government to proceed on this basis.

The way in which the Government have consulted the Labour party has been an absolute disgrace. All the motions that were put before the Labour conference in September were ruled out of order as the matter was going to be referred to the national policy commission. When it was discussed at the national policy commission there was a debate-there always is-but no vote, because under new Labour nothing crystallises into a vote. The only time when I ever vote is when I am here in the House of Commons. That is disgraceful.

I hope that my hon. Friends will, like me, vote for the amendment, and if the amendment is lost I hope that they will vote against the Government.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab)

It is with great pleasure that I say that I-along with, I suspect, several other Scottish Labour MPs-will vote against Trident's replacement this evening. I would vote against Trident's replacement wherever in the United Kingdom it was based, but the reality is that it is based in the west of Scotland and for many decades vast majorities of people in Scotland have made it clear that they oppose nuclear weapons being based in Scotland. I think that that is because they, perhaps more than people in any other part of Britain, are very aware of what those weapons represent. They are weapons of mass destruction that have been designed to target civilian communities and to maximise death and suffering.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con)

I want to take head-on the argument in the amendment to the motion. The basic case made by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and of many who spoke in support of his ideas was that we are beginning a so-called process of rearmament that is encouraging others to develop nuclear weapons. That is nonsense. There is no way that what we are voting on tonight could be described as rearmament. We have a single delivery system and a minimum credible deterrent, with a falling number of warheads, and there has been a 70 per cent. cut in our nuclear arsenal since the cold war. We are within not only the letter but the spirit of the non-proliferation treaty. That view was echoed in a number of excellent speeches, including that by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), who made those points extraordinarily clearly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) brought another dimension to the debate. In an excellent speech, he touched on the intervention of the Churches-many of us have had letters from them-regarding the moral implications, which have frequently been cited in this debate. Let me briefly deal with that issue. According to some, it is apparently not only unchristian to use nuclear weapons, but irreligious even to retain them to prevent a war. Yet if these arguments are valid, they are also timeless-retrospective, as well as applicable to the future...

The timing of the decision has been a cause of genuine division and some confusion in the House today. The Foreign Secretary made the case clearly at the outset. Our first Trident submarine will be out of service by 2022 and our second by 2024. We need to have a new system in place by then. If we estimate that it takes 17 years to design, build, test and deploy a new system, this is the right time to make the decision...

We cannot predict the future. The nature of the threat that we face has changed quickly from the cold war to a range of other threats, and it could change quickly again. The onus is not on those of us who wish to retain a deterrent, but on those who want to scrap it to tell us why they believe that they can predict the risks that we will face in half a century's time. Tonight is not about the Conservative party coming to support a Labour Government; it is about doing what we believe to be right for the country's national security. We in the Conservative party have been consistent and clear about our belief in nuclear deterrence. The cold war did not just end; it was won with a clarity of purpose and political resolve, not least on the part of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Peace through strength has a strong historical track record. This is no time to abandon that track record, or our security.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne):

This is a significant day for Parliament. There is no denying that deciding to build a new generation of submarines to maintain our nuclear deterrent is a big decision, costing billions of pounds, having implications over several decades and committing us to continue as the guardians of a weapon of terrible destructive power, with all the responsibility that that brings. This is a decision that Governments have faced periodically over the years. The difference today is that Parliament has the chance to debate it and vote on it at an earlier stage in the process than ever before, and I hope that it is better informed than ever before...

The first was the speech by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who I must say is a skilled debater, but his sense of moral righteousness and certainty was not matched by the quality of his argument...

The second discordant note-I say this with some diffidence-came from the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) and for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), which were unworthy of them and were based on constant assertions of dishonesty, which they simply could not make stand up. On the question of legal advice-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I hope that the Secretary of State is not associating dishonesty with any hon. Member. I do not like interrupting him, but I would not like him to associate any hon. Member with dishonesty in this House.

Des Browne: Not dishonesty, but constant assertions of misleading, which could not be made to stand up.

Mr. Speaker: "Inadvertently misleading" would be better. We try to work our way around words here, so inadvertently misleading is better, but I think it would be best if the Secretary of State moved on from this difficult territory...

Des Browne: Some Members have registered a more serious and genuine concern. I am thinking of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and supported, among others, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). They have made it clear that they accept the Government's case and that we need to take a decision now, but argue that we should see it as a provisional or conditional decision, and make it clear that we intend to revisit it further down the line.

Our position was set out earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he said, "It is absolutely right that this Parliament cannot bind the decisions of a future Parliament and it is always open to us to come back and look at these issues...when we get to the gateway stage-between 2012 and 2014-when we let the main contracts...it will always be open to Parliament to take a decision." This happened when the previous generation of submarines was built, and it would be surprising if it did not happen again. However, the precise details of how future Parliaments should approach this issue is something that they must decide.

As the Prime Minister went on to say, the fundamental point is that we need to take a decision now to start the process, and we have deliberately chosen to bring this decision to Parliament at the right time at the start rather than proceeding in secret and then presenting it later as a foregone conclusion. The hon. Member for North Devon is absolutely right when he says that we are asking the House not just to keep our options open but to take the big decision-the decision in principle.

Let me turn briefly to the second camp, who believe that there is no longer any need for nuclear weapons because the world has changed. The world has

14 Mar 2007 : Column 398

changed, but a proper understanding of that change suggests that, although right now there is no nuclear threat and no country with both the capability and the intent to threaten us, which is why we have de-targeted our missiles, we cannot rule out the possibility that the threat will re-emerge. Indeed, recent events reinforce our view that this is not just a mere possibility but a very real risk. We should remember that other countries' intentions can change faster than we could possibly rebuild our deterrent if we allowed it to lapse.

Finally, I come to the first camp, whose objections are essentially moral. I will not say much about this other than to echo what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in opening the debate. We in this country and in the Government can be proud of our moral record on disarmament. We remain absolutely committed to it and we believe that it is completely compatible with the decision that we are asking Parliament to approve today. I know that that will not have persuaded everyone. The view that maintaining our nuclear deterrent is morally wrong, or morally or practically incompatible with working towards disarmament, is a position I respect, but one that I profoundly disagree with.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge again the support of the official Opposition. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks asked several detailed questions about costs and other matters, and he also said that they were questions for the future. I hope that he will be satisfied if I say that I will write to him. Given the limited time I had today, I wanted to spend it on the key arguments and factors in the decision that the House is about to make.

I should not finish, however, without also acknowledging the contribution of the hon. Member for North Devon. I do not think that he actually finished his speech, given that he covered only two of the five points that he promised. I was particularly disappointed not to hear, finally, an explanation of why the Liberal Democrats settled on 100 as the right number of warheads-other than, of course, the fact that it is a round number. However, I think that I can summarise what he said. His party now accepts that the Government are now entirely right to make the decision and right to make it now, but that there was no need to tell anyone about it. Instead, we should just have carried on in secret without any public scrutiny and only come to Parliament some years down the line-

It being six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [13 March].

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