» Thursday, November 30, 2006

Trident-White Paper

The Leader confirmed, as he had told the House earlier, that there would be a Commons statement on the White Paper on Monday, December 4. Asked to expand on the nature of the consultation on the policy, Mr Straw recalled the history of the previous discussions on the nuclear deterrent before the last three general elections. The Government had stated very clearly then that it intended to maintain the independent deterrent. It had not been an issue at the 2005 election.

Publication of the White Paper and the statement by the Prime Minister next week would be followed by a period of "quite some weeks" of consultation, followed by a vote in the Commons. Asked to say how many weeks, he said it probably would run into double figures. It would certainly be before Easter. Asked if the vote would be binding, the Leader replied yes. It was the purpose of Parliament. Ministers were asking everyone to read and digest the contents of the White Paper. Questioned about the comments of Charles Clarke, the Leader noted that these had been expressed with care. He was looking forward to persuading him away from the scepticism he had expressed. Secondly, the Leader pointed out that, when the Berlin Wall collapsed, there had been a good deal of optimism that it had marked the end of both ideological and military global conflict. However, the world had become – paradoxically – a much less certain place and, in some respects, more dangerous.

The Leader said that everyone should await the White Paper, which would also spell out why a decision had to be made in current circumstances. He rejected the view that such a decision could be put off for "a number of years". It was a matter of judgement, but the White Paper would spell out why long lead times were involved.

Asked why there was a need for a special Cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss the issue, Mr Straw said it was a good idea. It was incorrect to suggest that it had not been possible to come to a decision at a previous meeting. He repeated his comment that there had been a very high level of consensus. The Leader accepted that it would become a more live issue once the White Paper had been published and the Prime Minister had made his statement.

Mr Straw was asked if he thought it would have an impact on attitudes in Iran. He pointed out that, during all the period when he dealt with Iran as Foreign Secretary, it had never been raised with him by representatives of Iran’s government. When Iran had signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it had accepted the asymmetrical architecture – the five nuclear weapon sates and the non-nuclear weapon states, now numbering over 190. The right for the nuclear weapon states was to hold such weapons, but there was also an obligation to undertake negotiations leading to disarmament. The non-nuclear states were under an obligation not to develop their civil nuclear capacity in a way that could lead to military capacity. This had been the issue for Iran, which had denied that it had any nefarious motives.

Mr Straw again stressed that the UK’s record in meeting its obligations was exemplary. In response to a further question, the Leader said the future of the nuclear deterrent was a matter for the UK and, referring to Scottish devolution, defence policy was a reserved matter. The Leader advised journalists to await the contents of the White Paper. He acknowledged that the issue of the costs was among the matters which had to be examined carefully.

Briefing took place at 16:00 | Search for related news

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