DEFENCE – THE LEFT & UNILATERALISM – 15 March 2001

Dr Julian Lewis: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman [Menzies Campbell] for giving way. He is right that my remarks on this subject are predictable, because unlike his party, I consistently supported the British nuclear deterrent and NATO's policy of nuclear deterrence during the cold war. Will he explain why his party, the Liberal Democrat party, was in the forefront of the unilateral disarmament movement? I will be happy to quote the Liberal Democrats chapter and verse from the 1980s. Why, in October 1983, at the largest ever CND demonstration against the vital deployment of cruise missiles, was one of the star speakers on the platform the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown), who went on to lead the Liberal Democrats?

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Dr Lewis: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I know that the record of his party is such that he is strongly tempted to rewrite it. It is an historical fact that at the crucial time about which he was speaking – namely, the crucial period when decisions were taken whether to deploy cruise missiles and to replace Polaris with Trident – his own subsequent party leader repeatedly and publicly called Trident a white elephant and said that it should not be deployed, and repeatedly said that cruise missiles were the missiles that we had to stop. That was his leader's and his party's position. It is astonishing and deplorable that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot face up to that, but harks back to something like the council tax, about which we Conservatives admit that we were wrong. Will he not admit that he, his leader and his party were wrong about unilateralism in the 1980s, for that is what they were?

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Dr Lewis: The hon. Gentleman [Malcolm Savidge] is always courteous in giving way. However, surely he recognises that the issues debated in the 1980s were, if anything, more important than those on NMD that we are debating now? The outcome of the cold war depended on them. It is a matter of concern when people who were on the wrong side of the debate on 1980s issues try to falsify the record and do not show the slightest acknowledgement of the fact that, if their judgment was wrong in the past, it may be a little susceptible to error now.