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Speech in Scottish Parliament Jim Tolson

14 June 2007

Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) (LD): I will try to keep my speech as short as you requested, Presiding Officer, but you will appreciate that it is quite difficult to cut big chunks out of a speech. Accordingly, I will not take any interventions.

I speak in this debate as a member with a somewhat unusual background, in that I spent well over a decade working on Trident and Polaris nuclear submarines and believed strongly that our having a nuclear deterrent protected us. That was my view in the 1980s and 1990s, when I worked on refitting our fleet of nuclear submarines at Rosyth dockyard. That view was the key to my livelihood, and I believed that it was also the key to the policy of mutually assured destruction—MAD.

Some views that are held, often with great passion, should remain fixed and others should be flexible as time and circumstances change. My firm belief in the 1980s that the country should have a nuclear deterrent has changed with circumstances and time. I have seen, all too often, reports of our overstretched armed forces battling in many areas of the world, defending the rights of Britain and its allies, with a lack of people and equipment and without the flexibility to respond quickly to new threats. That seems all the more nauseating when we consider the cost of materials and equipment that are involved in facilitating the four nuclear submarines that make up our fleet. I recall being told, when I was a young apprentice in the mid-1980s, that a simple bolt cost more than £5 for a submarine but only 5p for a ship.

It is right that Britain should have an effective, flexible and well-trained armed force. However, even with Mr Putin's recent sabre rattling, I no longer feel that a fleet of submarines with multiwarhead, intercontinental ballistic missiles is needed to defend the rights of Britons at home and abroad.

The cost of replacing our Trident nuclear submarine fleet is estimated at £20 billion—although I am certain that it would be much more once the fleet was brought into service—but the cost of decommissioning the submarines, storing the submarine hulks in the long term and dealing with the dangerous and highly radioactive materials that we bequeath to future generations for thousands of years is incalculable. That is why Liberal Democrats north and south of the border have a long-standing commitment to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons on a multilateral basis.

I welcome the opportunity to support my federal colleagues and debate these important issues in a Scottish context, while recognising that defence is, rightly, reserved to the Westminster Parliament.