DEFENCE – TRIDENT NUCLEAR DETERRENT RENEWAL – 18 July 2016

[Sir Edward Leigh: ... Like all of us, I have thought about this issue for many years, and, like most people, I have reluctantly concluded that we must have an independent nuclear deterrent. However, the debate is not just about whether or not we have an independent nuclear deterrent. I was campaigning with my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) 30 years ago in the Coalition for Peace through Security. The argument was about the existence of the independent nuclear deterrent, and we were supporting Michael Heseltine against unilateralists, particularly in the Labour Party.

This is a serious debate in which we have to ask what sort of independent nuclear deterrent we want. I think it is our general conclusion that an independent nuclear deterrent based on submarines is the only viable form of a deterrent because it is the most undetectable given modern technology. I have no ideological qualms with either an independent nuclear deterrent or one based on submarines, but those who argue in favour of Trident have to keep making the case, because during the cold war the threat was clear and known, and an independent nuclear deterrent based on ballistic missiles designed to penetrate Moscow defences made a great deal of sense; we knew who would be striking us, and we knew who to strike back against, and this mutuality of awareness was what kept the cold war cold. Those who argue against a nuclear deterrent have to meet this fact of history: the existence of nuclear weapons kept the cold war cold.]

Dr Julian Lewis: To support what my hon. Friend has just said, if there had not been many conflicts going on in other parts of the world where the nuclear balance of terror did not apply during the cold war, it would be possible to argue that nuclear deterrence had played no part, but the fact is that communist regimes – proxy clients, as it were, for the superpowers – were fighting each other all over the globe. The one area where communism and capitalism did not fight each other was in Europe, because that is where the balance of power and the balance of terror was doing its work.

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[James Cartlidge: ... I never, ever want to see my country again in the position that it was in in the 1940s, when we were faced with an existential threat. We were on the verge of being invaded and if that had been successful, we too would have had concentration camps in this country, and all the brutality that would have followed from that.

There may be those who say that such a war is incredibly unlikely. I say to them that there is only one guarantee against it, and that is the nuclear deterrent, however unpalatable that may be. In 1918, people would not have believed that there would be another world war, and surely not another world war even more brutal than the one that they had just experienced, but none of us can predict the future.

Dr Philippa Whitford: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we would have nuked Germany?

Mr Cartlidge: If we had the ability. The nuclear weapon is there for one thing only: to defend this country in the case of existential invasion. It is nothing to do with the terrorist threat or wars such as we had in Iraq. It is that one overriding thing. It is a guarantee of our absolute freedom and existence.

People talk about cost. We cannot have limitless cost. We must have discipline. There can be no blank cheque, but let us talk about some figures that we know definitively. In the first world war 10 million lives were lost. In the second world war 73 million lives were lost, mainly civilians. How many since then? Not a single one in a world war. That has not been a coincidence. Nuclear weapons are horrific, but they have kept the peace.]

Dr Lewis: To take my hon. Friend back to the earlier intervention, it is a fact that both Germany and the Allies were racing to invent the atomic bomb. There is no doubt that if the Germans had got the atomic bomb first, they would have used it against us, and if we had got the atomic bomb, we would have used it against them, just as the Allies did against Japan to bring the war to an end.

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[Roger Godsiff: ... The UK leases the missiles from America, where they are made, maintained and tested. Our four submarines have to go to the American naval base in Georgia to have the missiles fitted. That is a fact. It is of course said by those who support renewal that we have “operational independence”. Bearing in mind that we do not own the missiles but lease them from America, I just do not believe that there is any scenario in which a British Prime Minister would authorise a submarine commander to use the nuclear weapons anywhere in the world without first notifying the Americans.]

Dr Lewis: I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he is being very reasonable in his approach. The point about the second centre of decision making, which both Republican and Democrat American Governments have supported since 1958, is about the danger that another country might think it could pick off the UK without the Americans responding on our behalf. They probably would respond but it would be too late by the time the aggressor found that out. That is why knowing that the UK can defend itself is welcomed by the Americans, so that no fatal miscalculation of that sort can be made.

[For Julian's speech in this debate click here.]