It is extremely important that we consider the issues that are raised in the motion, for a number of critical reasons. First, we must consider the current opportunity to remove obscenely destructive and indiscriminate weapons from Scotland for ever. Then we must consider the findings of the Trident commission, which reported last month, including the determination of the three main Westminster parties to proceed with Trident replacement and the massive costs that are associated with that decision. Finally, we must consider the impact of those costs—estimated at more than £100 billion at 2012 prices—on our expenditure on conventional defence equipment and on future budgets in general. Each of those issues is crucial to Scotland’s future, so it is extremely important that the Parliament consider them.
Six weeks tomorrow, the people of Scotland will have the opportunity to decide whether Scotland will once again take its place as an independent country. That choice, which I fully expect the people of Scotland to embrace, comes with this Government’s commitment to secure the removal of Trident nuclear weapons from an independent Scotland.
The Scottish Government and my party are determined to seize the opportunity to begin, in six weeks’ time, the discussions that will lead to the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland. I cannot believe that there are not members of parties in the Scottish Parliament other than the Scottish National Party and the Green Party who would not be excited by that project, given that among the Parliament’s members are lifelong campaigners against nuclear weapons. Whatever their view on constitutional change, who would not be excited by the prospect of getting rid of nuclear weapons, especially when the alternative is a lifetime spent under the shadow of a new generation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and the yoke of their massive cost?
The vast majority of countries in the world neither have nor want nuclear weapons. Of the 193 United Nations independent member states, it is believed that fewer than 10 possess nuclear warheads, or aspire to do so. Three of the five states that currently host United States nuclear weapons have stated their wish to see the weapons’ removal.
The Scottish Government is a firm supporter of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Although some people might question the non-proliferation treaty’s success in relation to its ultimate aim of securing the reduction of nuclear arms, the NPT provides a clear basis for international management and control of nuclear material, technologies and information. We must build on that framework, to take the next step.
The Scottish Government believes that, rather than renewing and further developing their nuclear weapons systems, nuclear-weapons states need to focus their efforts on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. That is why, when we debated the issue in March last year, the Scottish Government lodged a motion that endorsed the five-point plan for nuclear disarmament that was set out by the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon. The plan builds on the NPT and calls on nuclear and non-nuclear-weapons states to fulfil their obligations under the treaty to pursue negotiations that lead to disarmament. I am glad to say that a majority in the Parliament supported that motion.
Having set out the context, I turn to the United Kingdom Government’s plans for the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister has said that in 2016 the UK Government will decide whether to replace the Trident submarine fleet. The decision, which prepares for Trident missiles with nuclear warheads being based on the Clyde through to 2060 and beyond, could have massive implications for the UK’s conventional defence forces, but if we look at the position of the three main parties at Westminster, we see that the so-called Trident “main gate” decision appears to have been made. Both coalition parties and Labour have signalled their support for a new fleet of submarines carrying Trident ballistic missiles, and questions remain around only the size of the fleet and whether nuclear weapons should be on patrol continuously.
It is particularly important for Labour back benchers who feel strongly about nuclear disarmament to understand that the alternative is the basing of massively powerful nuclear weapons and their delivery systems in central Scotland for the next 50 years or more. That is the alternative to what we propose. The current UK Government is sticking to its line that it has no plans to move those weapons from Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. However, we believe that information that is critical to that decision—information on the costs and the consequences for the future of the UK’s armed forces—has not been made available either to members of Parliament at Westminster or to the general public.
On 1 July, the Trident commission, a cross-party inquiry led by representatives of the three main Westminster parties, published its concluding report. I disagree strongly with its support for the UK retaining nuclear weapons, and I was greatly concerned by its comments on the cost of Trident renewal and the impact that those costs could have on conventional defence personnel and equipment. The UK Government has provided estimates of the capital costs of replacing the submarine fleet that carries its nuclear weapons, of extending the life of the Trident missiles and of other infrastructure and warhead developments. According to the Trident commission’s report, those costs alone come to £50.6 billion at 2012 prices.
The Trident commission also estimates an annual in-service outlay on Trident running costs of around £1.5 billion at 2012 prices. Over an assumed operational lifetime of 35 years, that suggests a further £52.5 billion in running costs, taking the total potential cost of the UK Government’s Trident successor programme to over £100 billion at 2012 prices.
The Trident Commission’s overall financial assessment, which discounts future costs, suggests that the annual net present value of the Trident replacement system would average £2.9 billion per year. That is the equivalent of spending 9 per cent of the UK’s current defence budget on nuclear weapons each year. It also equates to between 20 and 30 per cent of the entire capital budget of all three services. However, as construction of the successor submarine fleet reaches its peak, the actual annual cash costs are projected to be even higher than that, at almost £4 billion a year by the mid-2020s, at 2012 prices. As the Trident commission recognises, that will
“place a heavy strain on MoD’s capital budget: in the period 2018 to 2030, between 20 and 30% of the whole defence capital budget shared between the three services will be spent on Trident renewal.”
Given the appalling cost overruns that tend to be typical of the Ministry of Defence’s projects—for example, the cost of the UK aircraft carrier programme rose from £3 billion to £6 billion in the blink of an eye—nobody really expects that the figures that I have just mentioned for the renewal of Trident will remain static.
The Trident commission’s concern echoes the comments of Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute, who said in January 2013 that
“sharp increases in spending on Trident renewal in the early 2020s seem set to mean further years of austerity for conventional equipment plans.”
That will mean, among other things, not enough helicopter support, not enough personal equipment for the troops and perhaps not enough troops. Those things are part of the price of Trident.
The Trident commission’s report goes further and states:
“Important defence projects currently in the pipeline will surely suffer delay or cancellation.”
Even more worryingly, it states:
“Retaining the deterrent could negatively impact on other valuable security and defence capabilities.”
It is clear that renewing Trident nuclear weapons will impact on the future procurement of defence equipment such as the T26 global combat ships that will be needed by UK forces at home and overseas. In that respect, the Scottish Government supports the Trident commission’s conclusion that the UK Government needs to be
“transparent about the cost to the public purse.”
A decision that commits to the spending of over £100 billion of taxpayers’ money and that has major consequences for future defence contracts at the expense of conventional defence capabilities is being taken without transparency about the costs and the impacts on other areas of defence spending.