Richard BenyonMain Page: Richard Benyon (Conservative) - Newbury)
Department Debates - View all Richard Benyon's debates with the Ministry of Defence
If I recall correctly, 1,000 people in Plymouth are dependent for their jobs and livelihoods on supporting our nuclear submarines. I would very much like to add my thanks to them for the work that they do. That also demonstrates the important benefit that our nuclear deterrent provides for the whole country in jobs and skills.
It is absolutely right that my right hon. Friend mentions Aldermaston and the work that it does on our continued ability to develop our nuclear deterrent, to ensure that we remain ahead of the game. That also has an enormous benefit to the whole wider economy, and not only in the development of skills. This investment has an impact on science and technology, keeping us ahead of the game and ahead of our rivals.
Break in Debate
The hon. Gentleman is an admirable member of the Defence Committee, and we greatly value his contributions, but I do not think that that was his most stellar contribution—[Laughter.] Sometimes people say, “Well, what if the Americans wanted to have some sort of veto or to stop us using the nuclear deterrent?”—I mean using it in the sense of firing it rather than of using it in the sense that it is used all day long every day of the year to prevent nuclear conflict. The first point is that this nuclear system is totally under our own control. It would gradually wither on the vine over a long period of time only if the United States decided for some reason that it no longer wanted there to be a second centre of nuclear decision making within the NATO alliance. At any time now, as it has been for the last 50 years, it is entirely independently controlled by us.
The second point is about why an American president would ever not want there to be a second centre of nuclear decision making in NATO, because that reduces any temptation of an aggressor against NATO to think that it could pick off this country without America responding.
I pay tribute to the people who work at Aldermaston in my right hon. Friend’s constituency for all that they contribute to the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent capability. Not only do I agree with him, but he has led me nicely back to the central theme of my narrative, which was to try to set out for the House the five main military arguments in favour of retaining our independent deterrent, the first of which is precisely the point that he has just made. Future military threats and conflicts will be no more predictable than those that engulfed us throughout the 20th century. That is the overriding justification for preserving armed forces in peacetime as a national insurance policy. No one knows what enemies might confront us during the next 30 to 50 years, but it is highly probable that at least some of them will be armed with mass-destruction weapons.
The second argument is that it is not the weapons themselves that we have to fear but the nature of the regimes that possess them. Whereas democracies are generally reluctant to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear dictatorships—although they did use them against Japan in 1945—the reverse is not true. Think, for example, what the situation would have been in 1982 if a non-nuclear Britain had faced an Argentina in possession of even a few tactical nuclear bombs and the means of delivering them. There would have been no question of our being able to retake the Falkland Islands in that conflict.