In the House of Commons yesterday, Bob delivered a speech which questioned the remit and scope of, and the process used to produce, the Trident Alternatives Review. Bob made it clear during his speech that in his opinion, it was only worth having a deterrent if it actually deterred:
Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The political class in this country and others struggles to communicate and maintain credibility with the electorate. It is not always our fault, but sometimes we are to blame, and when we commission such a report and present it in this manner, we do serious damage to our credibility when talking to our electorate. In my opinion, the report was born of unworthy motives and conducted without any outside consultation, and to present it with the kind of hyperbole we have heard tonight—as the most comprehensive examination of our nuclear deterrent in a generation—is clear and utter nonsense. The report picks apart nothing in the 2006 White Paper; indeed, despite the best efforts of the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) at the last general election, it confirms the basic underpinning of the report and denies the credibility of what was said at the last general election: that we can have a cheap nuclear deterrent.
Of course, there is the question of whether we should have a nuclear deterrent at all. It is raised in all our constituencies all the time and is a perfectly reasonable question. Some Members believe and say openly that we should not have one, while others, I think, believe the same, but do not say so openly. The first question, then, is whether we should have one at all, but the report was not commissioned to examine that question; it was commissioned to examine the second question, which inevitably flows from the first: if we decide to have a nuclear deterrent, what kind should it be? What is the best system? What is affordable, effective and a real deterrent? That is where the report falls down.
There is no such thing as a non-credible or a less-credible deterrent. There can be no such thing as a part-time deterrent. To be a deterrent, something has to deter. Doing anything less than deter stops a nuclear deterrent from being a deterrent at all. It turns it into what? Potentially, at times of crisis, it turns into an invitation; it most certainly turns it from a deterrent into a weapon. If we look at what underpins the White Paper— and as the previous speaker clearly stated—we seen that such a weapon would be dangerous to deploy. How, when and in what circumstances would it be put to sea? How would we disguise, at a time of rising tension, that we were doing that? It would be dangerous to deploy and difficult to sustain. It is all right to say that if we have three boats, we could, for a time in some circumstances, up our level of deterrent and go back to continuous-at-sea deterrence. Yes, we could do that for a while if we got ahead of the crisis, stepped back to CASD, deployed a boat at sea and kept it at sea throughout that time. But with three boats, for how long could we do that?
The Government and the Labour party accept—indeed, it would be nonsense not to accept it—that technology may change the need for a fourth boat. If it does, why on earth would we do anything other than have three boats? However, if technology does not change those basic parameters, we will lose our ability to deter for a considerable time. This is not something we can just rescale in a matter of months; it would take years to rescale and we would therefore be rendering our deterrent non-sustainable.
This report does not ask an honest question and I do not believe it was an honest process, but the review has at least flushed out the issue of whether Trident can be done on the cheap. I would not want to have an examination in a cheap operating theatre by a doctor who had been trained on the cheap, and I would not want a deterrent that was done on the cheap. If we are to have a deterrent, let us have a deterrent that deters, as that is the only one worth having.