Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con)
That was one of the most courageous speeches I have heard during my time in the House.
I am very sad that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) is not here. When we last debated the matter in 2007, he was in his place and I was sitting on the Opposition Benches. He swept his arm to his right and said that we in the home counties could not understand what it was like to have such a powerful weapon on our doorsteps. I pointed out to him that if he came into my bedroom and looked across the Kennet valley, he would see the rooftops of the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston; if he looked slightly to his left, he would see the rooftops of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Burghfield; and if he climbed on to my roof, he could probably see the missile silos at Greenham common. In my part of Berkshire, we need no lessons from anyone about the impact or the effect of living close to the nuclear deterrent. He replied as consummately as clever politicians do, that that was the first and last time he would ever be asked into a Tory MP’s bedroom.
The point is that the nuclear deterrent is my constituency’s largest employer, and it brings many advantages, not least to the supply chain of 275 local companies and 1,500 supply chain organisations nationally. Add to that its role in advising the Government on counter-terrorism; the effect it has on nuclear threat reduction, on forensics—not least in the recent Litvinenko inquiry—and on non-proliferation; its second-to-none apprenticeship scheme; and its academic collaboration with the Orion laser. None of that would matter one jot if the decision we were taking today was wrong. The decision we are taking today is right.
Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman has said about the situation of nuclear materials and weapons in his constituency. Does he agree that there is one big difference between his constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara)? The hon. Gentleman’s constituents—witness his election—want nuclear weapons. The constituents of my hon. Friend, and those of all my hon. Friends, do not want nuclear weapons.
There are many polls that conflict with the information that the hon. and learned Lady provides. I was elected on a resounding majority, but who knows how much of that decision was about nuclear weapons being based locally? I think it was about a wide variety of issues.
The truth is that the nuclear deterrent has saved lives—this is a point that has not been made enough tonight—over the past few decades, because aggressors have been deterred. We have to ask ourselves how predictable future conflicts are. The leader of the SNP said that we are talking about deterrence today. We are not; we are talking about deterrence for 20 years, 30 years or 40 years. The SNP may have a crystal ball, and SNP Members may be able to say that there will be no threats to us in that time. I do not have a crystal ball, however, and I want to ensure the protection of future generations in this country.
Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what role these nuclear weapons played in the catastrophes in Libya and Syria? What contribution did they make?
That was a totally ridiculous intervention, which is not worthy of a reply. The hon. Gentleman might like to consider what kind of aggressor we might face in the future. We are not just talking about a resurgent Russia. What about groups of nations or individual nations? We know that nuclear weapons have proliferated in recent years. As we have reduced our arsenal, others have increased theirs. He needs to think not just about today, and not just about himself and his
constituents, but about the future generations whom we are talking about protecting.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not take any more interventions.
We have to think through the recent conflicts in our lifetime: not conflicts in which nuclear retaliation would ever have been appropriate, but the Yom Kippur war, the Falklands—mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—the invasion of Kuwait, 9/11 and even last week’s coup in Turkey. We did not know that they were going to happen. Who can say that we would be any the wiser in the event of a coup de main operation that might not have happened if the potential enemy had been deterred by our possession of weapons that made them sit up and think? We need potential enemies to hold in their mind the fact that there is no advantage to them in aggression.
I have spoken tonight about our constituents and about future generations, but let us also talk about the concept of using nuclear weapons. There is a good, honest and decent concept, which goes back many generations and which I can respect, of disarmament and pacifism in this country. I happen to think that in this context it is wrong, but we can respect it. When people talk about using nuclear weapons, they need to understand the doctrine that governs them. Our nuclear deterrent has been used every single day of every single year for which it has been deployed. It does what it says on the tin; it deters.
I am sorry to say it, but no one believes that an independent Scotland would suddenly start to invest in Type 26 destroyers, fast jets and all the other paraphernalia of a nation that somehow wants to engage in the world in the way that Britain does. SNP Members’ sudden attraction to the idea of massive defence spending is complete nonsense.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not give way.
The nature of regimes in a more dangerous world is what we need to consider today. Although we have reduced our arsenal of nuclear weapons by 50% in recent years—the Leader of the Opposition completely ignored the fact that we have reduced our arsenal so considerably—the number of states with nuclear weapons has increased and the number of tactical nuclear weapons in the world is now over 17,000.
On the question of cost, I would just state that all this—the £31 billion over 35 years, plus the contingency—translates to about 0.2% of total Government spending. That will be reduced if we take account of the advantage for the supply chain of developing this suite of replacement submarines.
I will finish by saying that we need to listen to our allies on this issue. We have an agreement with the French—the Lancaster House agreement—and we have a long-standing agreement with the United States. Our nuclear defence is networked into our other allies as well. We need to think about their response to what we are debating as much as about the future generations that we will protect through our decision tonight
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