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14 March 2007

Barrett votes for no replacement of Trident

John Barrett, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, today voted against the Government’s proposals to replace the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent.

Details of Mr Barrett’s speech are below:

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): It is good to follow a few excellent speeches in the debate. I particularly compliment the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) who, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, was the Member for Edinburgh, South before the current hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), who has made his resignation speech. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) was of very much the same opinion, and I am sure that the Labour Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) will also oppose the Government tonight, as will I as the Member for Edinburgh, West. There may be something in the water.

Tonight’s decision on Trident will haunt the House if we get it wrong. If anyone is still wondering why there is a rush to make a decision now, the answer is clear. The Americans are extending the life of their D5 Trident missiles and they want answers in 2007. They need to know whether we are willing to join them. There is no pressing military, political, technical or other reason to make the decision now. The only reason we are being bounced into this decision is because of the current Prime Minister and his wish to leave the country’s hands tied long after he has gone. It is not the submarines that are reaching the end of their shelf life; it is the Prime Minister.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Will the hon. Gentleman explain why, months before the Prime Minister made his statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he believed that we should keep the nuclear deterrent not only in the present Parliament, but in the long-term future, and why the defence White Paper, as long ago as 2003, made it abundantly clear that the decision would have to be taken in this Parliament? That was nothing to do with the Prime Minister leaving office.

John Barrett: I am sure that the Chancellor would like to see the dirty deed done for him before he comes into office. In the Government’s White Paper we are told that only the Prime Minister can push the nuclear button. That is of little comfort to many inside and outside the House.

I am glad to be called to speak in the debate, because not only do I feel strongly about this issue, but I know that many of my constituents feel the same way. Many have written to me and some have asked for copies of the Government’s document on the future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent. Others have written on behalf of larger groups and organisations, for example, the Churches.

It has been interesting to hear those views and I have read and answered every letter and e-mail. There has been a steady flow. It would be good to give a few examples of people who wrote to ask me to support the Government’s position, but there was not one. One letter was from an Edinburgh city councillor, who asked me to oppose the Government tonight—he asked for my support and he is a Labour councillor.

I have said on many occasions that there are two threats that we must face up to: global warming and terrorism. Nuclear weapons, as has been said earlier, are useless against both. There has been much talk about the uncertainty of the future. Why, then, are the Government so convinced that, in the face of that uncertainty, a nuclear arsenal is the answer? If deterrence is working, will someone explain exactly which nations are being deterred? Which country is so mad that it would launch a nuclear strike on us and, at the same time, so reasonable that it would be stopped from doing so by our possession of these weapons?

The potential use of the weapons is also a key issue. Page 14 of the Government’s White Paper refers to the fact that the Government believe that the use of the weapons would not be unlawful and that the threshold for legitimate use would be high. Well, that might be good enough for some, but it provides little comfort to me or many outside this place. Combined with the statement that

          “we will not rule...out the first use of nuclear weapons”

it means that the weapons might be used either in a pre-emptive strike, possibly to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians, or in retaliation, again to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Either way, it would be a disaster and immoral.

Relying on intelligence to launch that first strike is asking others to do the same if they feel under threat from us. Giving everyone a gun does not make our streets a safer place to live in. We in this country are members of a very small, exclusive club of nuclear powers. A very few countries want to join, but most countries are not members and do not want to join. Most European countries do not possess nuclear weapons. If it is good enough for Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Norway, it should be good enough for us.

Page 22 of the White Paper describes the Government’s preference for an invulnerable and undetectable system. That is the key component of the entire system. However, the proposal is also based on the assumption that the technology to detect the position of submarines at sea will not be developed soon. When that technology is more accurate and widespread, the position of the submarines will not be a secret at all. Having all the missiles in a submarine whose position is known makes that submarine a target for every terrorist and rogue state that we can think of.

If proliferation is a problem, what moral justification is there to say that we are entitled to possess nuclear weapons, but others, such as North Korea and Iran, are not? Members do not have to take my word for it, they can listen to what Dr. Hans Blix had to say. I remember well when the House was presented with the evidence in relation to Iraq. When he challenged that dodgy dossier, which claimed that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, the Prime Minister should have listened to him, and we should listen to him now. He has said that modernising Britain’s arsenal will put the non-proliferation treaty under strain and will increase the likelihood that non-nuclear states such as Iran will want to join that nuclear club. The chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission knows what he is talking about and we should heed his words.

What could be done with the money saved if Trident were not replaced? Our priorities should be protecting the planet, building a first-class health and education service, investing in our children’s future and looking after the vulnerable in society. Further afield, the wars that we should be waging with those resources are the war against poverty and hunger in Africa and beyond and the battle against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which have killed more than 6 million people this year. We should be caring for the victims of war, not creating more. We should be helping orphans, those trapped in refugee camps in Darfur and the millions who do not have access to clean drinking water.

I will be voting against the Government’s plans to replace Trident. Once again, the Prime Minister will have the support of much of the Conservative party, which is no surprise as many Conservative Members see him as their natural leader. We have the opportunity to look forward and raise our gaze above the horizon. Those who want to build a future based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction will not only make the world a more dangerous place, but miss a golden opportunity to leave behind an age in which mankind has spent much time developing weapons with the capacity to destroy all life on the planet many times over. Saying that the best that we can think of is to spend billions of pounds on a weapon of mass destruction is an admission of failure. We should be offering the British public something better. Nuclear weapons were developed to deal with the threat of the last century. It is time to move on and consign them to history.

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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.