Promoted by Mark Ward-Jones on behalf of the Torfaen Constituency Labour Party at 27 Brunel Road, Fairwater, Cwmbran, Torfaen NP44 4QT.
This evening the House of Commons will vote on a motion on the principle of our Continuous At Sea nuclear deterrence and the replacement of our current Vanguard-Class submarines with four Successor submarines. Should the current submarines not be replaced, their operational period will end in the late 2020s, and the UK will be left with no nuclear deterrent at all. I am not a unilateralist, and I believe we should replace the current submarines, to prevent this situation occurring. I will be voting in favour of the motion this evening, and want to set out my further thoughts below.
Clearly, the world’s geo-politics have changed since the end of the Cold War. But the world is very uncertain, and, in my view, there remain threats around the world. I am deeply concerned about the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and about other states developing nuclear weapons such as North Korea. I am very worried about the consequences of leaving the UK with no nuclear deterrent at all, without having reduced the number of nuclear weapons around the world, which I believe is going to be the case unless a decision is taken now to build these submarines.
Thank you to all those constituents who have sent in their views to me, on e-mail, by letter, and who came to see me in person. I have also met workers from Barrow where the submarines will be built. I am grateful to both my own union, Unite, and the GMB, for setting out their position. I quote the Unite motion on this matter: “Here in 2016, a vote against building those submarines would have only one immediate effect. The destruction of jobs, workplaces and communities of thousands of skilled Unite members…” In the words of Tim Roache, General Secretary of the GMB: “Current Labour Party policy is to maintain a continuous at sea deterrent (CASD). This is not a vote about the Trident submarines, but a vote that means we carry on building submarines. British manufacturing and our members livelihoods are dependent on the Successor Submarine programme going ahead. These are highly skilled jobs that cannot be replaced easily; they support our members’ families and the communities they live in. Nearly every constituency in the country has jobs that are dependent on this work, through the supply chain, the figure runs into the tens of thousands.”
The Ministry of Defence has recently estimated a cost of £31 billion over 35 years, with a £10 billion contingency fund for the four new submarines. I fully recognise concerns about cost, which needs to be scrutinized carefully. I have, however, concluded that four submarines are necessary for a Continuous At Sea deterrent to be maintained: there has to be one at sea, a second ready to deploy if needed, a third undergoing routine maintenance and a fourth in full refit. I also think a land or air-based alternative is not feasible: the Trident Alternatives Review concluded that submarines are the least vulnerable to attack.
In the motion before Parliament today, the government commits to the UK “reducing its overall weapons stockpile by the mid-2020s; and supports the Government’s commitment to continue work towards a safer and more stable world, pressing for key steps towards multilateral disarmament.” I will be holding the government to account on this pledge. I am very proud that it was a Labour government that signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. It is one thing for the current government make a commitment, and another to take an active role in multilateral nuclear disarmament talks. I am pleased that, since 2010, the number of nuclear warheads on each submarine has been reduced from 48 to 40, and that the number of operational missiles on each submarine has been reduced to not more than 8. But the government needs to do much more in contributing to disarmament talks, and making a difference.
Aneurin Bevan once said that if the UK were to disarm unilaterally, it would be to send the British Foreign Secretary “naked into the conference chamber.” This government has the opportunity to make a difference in the conference chamber, and to reduce the number of nuclear weapons globally (currently some 17,000, of which the UK has 1%), and I will be pressing them on this in the Commons.
I know that colleagues have different views on this issue, but I ask that we conduct the debate in a respectful way, whatever we ultimately think.