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26 September 2006

Barrett calls for ‘full public debate’ on trident replacement

John Barrett, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, has today demanded a full and open debate in parliament and across the country over the decision whether or not to replace the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Mr Barrett has signed up to a major, nationwide campaign launched this week calling for a full public debate on any replacement of the Trident nuclear missile system before a final decision is made.

The government has said it will publish a white paper this year, but only after it has made a decision. It will be followed by a debate and vote in parliament. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both favour the UK keeping nuclear arms.

The cost of replacing the Trident nuclear missile system could be as much as £76bn according to latest estimates published in the Guardian newspaper.

In a statement, John Barrett said:

“This is an issue of genuine national importance. As such, it is absolutely vital that both the public and parliament have their say, before any decision is taken.

“For a decision as important as this to be made behind closed doors in smoke filled rooms is simply unacceptable.

“The cost of replacing Trident looks likely to be as much as £76bn. There must be serious questions asked as to whether this is the best and most effective use of such enormous sums of money. I have today launched a poll on my website to let local people have their say.

“Today’s security threats are very different to those we faced in 10 years ago. As a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, we may actually better safeguard our long-term security by setting an example to other countries and negotiating away nuclear weapons, rather than investing billions on replacements.

“Money spent on weapons of mass destruction could instead be spent on health, education, jobs and genuine human security at home and abroad.”


• Trident was brought into service during the 1990s, and is expected to reach the end of its service life in the 2020s. A replacement for the system is likely to take around 14 years to develop.

• The figure of £76bn is based on calculations made by the Liberal Democrats from parliamentary answers and is backed up by independent Commons researchers.

• Most estimates have put the cost of replacing Trident at between £15bn and £25bn, but these do not take into account the annual maintenance costs.

• Des Browne, the defence secretary, told the Commons in July, shortly before the summer recess, that the annual expenditure for capital and running costs of Trident would amount to up to 5.5% of the defence budget in the current financial year. He was responding to a question from the Scottish National party MP Michael Weir, who asked what the "annual maintenance cost" of the existing Trident system was expected to be.

• The £76bn figure is based on the value the government has put on the cost of the existing Trident system - £14.9bn - plus the percentage of the £30bn defence budget now devoted to Trident for 30 years.

• Mr Barrett has today launched the following poll on his website: Do you think the UK should spend £76bn to retain the independent nuclear deterrent? Yes or no.

• The Big Trident Debate website has been established, with widespread support, with the single aim of pressing the government to facilitate that debate, and to provide a public space for debate of the issues. It is not confined to any one point of view and we urge participation from all perspectives.

Details of the online petition are:

We, the undersigned, believe:

The future of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system is of great national and international importance and will have implications for decades to come. Any decision should only be made after full and informed public and Parliamentary debate.

It is the responsibility of Government to facilitate a thorough, national consultation. This dialogue must inform the decision-making process and take place before the Government makes any decision on the way forward.

The Government must publish comprehensive information and analysis on all the key issues, including nuclear and non-nuclear options, current and future perceived threats to the UK, the deterrent capability of nuclear weapons to address such threats, estimated costs for each option, international obligations and implications for nuclear proliferation.

The Government must allocate sufficient time for a full Parliamentary debate, and the substantive decision on whether or not Britain retains nuclear weapons must be made by Parliament.

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.