Weekly Westminster insights

Welcome to our weekly update on what is going on in the Houses of Parliament from CND’s Parliamentary Officer, Amy Keegan.

Last week in Parliament was far busier than expected even though the 50th anniversary debate on the “continuous at sea deterrent” (CASD) was postponed. The main buzz has been around a report from the National Audit Office criticising the MOD for its “dismal failure” to clean up 20 out-of-service nuclear submarines. Getting rid of old submarines is expensive and takes a long time – so much so that no government has wanted the process to start on their watch. So we’ve ended up with dangerous old nuclear submarines rotting near populated areas whilst we invest billions in developing new ones. The government revealed that they are in negotiations with Babcock to complete defueling work. The same Babcock that the MOD has already placed under scrutiny over their management of the existing contract with Trident submarines. What could go wrong? I’ll be keeping an eye on this and the SNP calls for a public inquiry to see if it gains political momentum. This week has also seen widespread condemnation of the  commemoration service at Westminster Abbey on the 3rd of May for 50 years of CASD.  As you can expect, we are working with Parliamentary CND MPs to object to this. Keep up to date with CNDs wider campaigning work on this topic.

This week Parliament was scheduled to begin Easter recess, but with no outcome on Brexit, this has been cancelled. The general debate on the 50th anniversary of CASD has been rescheduled and should take place this Wednesday in the Chamber of the House of Commons. Of course, with the way Parliament is at the moment it is quite possible it will be delayed again..

As always, I’ll share updates throughout the week here.

Amy  @amy_keegan

Kevan Jones MP questions government on nuclear submarines

Kevan Jones  asked the Secretary of State for Defence, “what the cost to the public purse is of the Government’s new arrangement with Babcock for the defuelling of former Royal Navy nuclear submarines in Rosyth and Devonport.”

Stuart Andrew, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence responded “We are currently negotiating a new contractual arrangement with Babcock, to ensure better value for money for the taxpayer to complete the defueling facility. I am withholding the cost as its disclosure would prejudice commercial interests. I can confirm that defueling of existing and future laid-up nuclear submarines will take place at Devonport.”

Westminster tweets of the week


SNP have called for a public inquiry into failure to scrap decommissioned submarines

In response to the NAO report released yesterday, SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald has now called on UK Government ministers to be held to account and “face up to the consequences of their actions. This is a scandal of epic proportions. Eye watering sums of money are being wasted by the MoD and it is time that those responsible – ministers and officials of the current and previous governments – are called to answer how this sorry situation has been arrived at. A public inquiry would allow for the proper scrutiny that the public would expect. The wasting of hundreds of millions of pounds cannot simply be written off. It is vital that the authors of this mess explain themselves. The public have a right to know what advice was being given, how sound was that advice and where was sound advice being ignored by ministers? Carrying on with submarine renewal whilst this hangs over the MoD is wholly unacceptable. People in communities like Rosyth will be living with the consequences of the UK’s nuclear folly for years to come. 20 submarines are currently rotting on our coasts with a £7.5 billion pound price tag to maintain and then dispose of them. Ministers, past and present, along with officials who advised them on this disastrous course of action, must be held to account.”

A MOD spokesperson said: “The disposal of nuclear submarines is a complex and challenging undertaking. We remain committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defueling and dismantling of all decommissioned nuclear submarines as soon as practically possible.”

National Audit Office releases report on MOD failure to clean up old nuclear submarines

The Ministry of Defence has been criticised in a new report by the National Audit Office for its ‘dismal’ failure to clean up 20 out-of-service nuclear submarines. The NAO’s latest report found that the UK has not disposed of any nuclear-powered submarines since the 1980s, leaving 9 subs berthed in populous areas with ageing nuclear fuel still inside. The process of defueling these submarines is not scheduled to take place until 2023. (See CND’s response to the report)

Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, raised the issue of the submarines with the Prime Minister in Prime Ministers Question time today asking:

“Back in June last year, I asked the Prime Minister to help fund the recycling of the 20 old nuclear submarines tied up and rotting in Devonport and Rosyth. Today’s National Audit Office report shows that the Ministry of Defence has no funded plan to do this work, and no submarines have been dismantled since 1980—that is the year I was born. Will the Prime Minister now extend the civil nuclear clean-up to make sure that it includes all the Royal Navy submarines, so that we can deal with this issue, and make that part of her legacy in office?”

The Prime Minister responded “We remain committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defuelling and dismantling of our nuclear submarines as soon as is practically possible. The MOD continues to act as a responsible nuclear operator by maintaining its decommissioned nuclear submarines to meet the necessary safety and security standards. I think its commitment is illustrated by the recent success in the initial dismantling of the submarine Swiftsure, which has been followed immediately by the initial dismantling of Resolution. The MOD will continue to work with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to achieve steady-state disposal of our laid-up submarines as soon as possible. We are working on this. The Labour Government had 13 years as well, and what work did they do during those 13 years on this decommissioning issue?”

Early Day Motion 2073 Update

Drew Hendry, Kirsty Blackman, Paul Farrelly, Deidre Brock and Alan Brown  have recently signed Early Day Motion 2073, on the INF withdrawal calling for the UK government to rule out hosting cruise missiles in the UK. This brings the total signatories to 32 from Green, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and Democratic Unionist Party.

See if your MP has signed the EDM

Weekly Westminster insights

Welcome to our weekly update on what is going on in the Houses of Parliament from CND’s Parliamentary Officer, Amy Keegan.

Last week in Parliament was again mostly Brexit focused and therefore pretty quiet on nuclear disarmament news. Last Monday the Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson was in the House of Commons chamber answering questions from MPs on his department. Whilst there wasn’t much new information – Gavin Williamson did state that he would be attending a commemoration service at Westminster Abbey on the 3rd of May for 50 years of the so-called continuous at sea deterrent (CASD.) Hosting any celebration of nuclear weapons is abhorrent, never mind hosting it in a religious space. Westminster Abbey is a ‘royal peculiar’ – meaning that the Church of England doesn’t have control over what happens there. Last year the Church of England passed a motion supporting the UN treaty on the Prohibition of the Nuclear Weapons – so hosting this service there directly goes against this motion. As you can expect, we are working with Parliamentary CND MPs to object to this. Keep up to date with CNDs wider campaigning work on this topic. Gavin Williamson gave this statement on the same day that Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated that The British Government is “committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons and to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.” It’s absurd how the government can on the same day, state that they are committed to getting rid of nuclear weapons, whilst also announcing that they will celebrate them.

This week in Parliament,  there will be a general debate on the 50th anniversary of CASD taking place on Wednesday in the Chamber of the House of Commons. General debates are neutrally worded motions that allow MPs to debate a subject without committing the House to an opinion or course of action. I mentioned last week that a group of pro-nuclear MPs had put in a proposal to debate around the 50th anniversary at the end of April so we were expecting it but not this early in the month. We’ll be briefing parliamentary CND MPs before the debate. Tomorrow there will be Foreign and Commonwealth Oral Questions at 11.30am in the chamber of the House of Commons where Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Jeremy Hunt, and his team will answer questions from MPs across the house.

As always, I’ll share updates throughout the week here.

Amy  @amy_keegan