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Speech in Scottish Parliament Iain Smith

14 June 2007

Iain Smith (North East Fife) (LD): I am happy to make a winding-up speech on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.

I want first to make it clear that our position as a party is clear and has not changed one bit, whatever Bruce Crawford might say. Jim Wallace made that clear in his excellent speech in the debate on Trident last year. As we set out in our amendment then, we rejected the reasoning in the Government's white paper that we had to make a decision on renewing Trident in spring 2007. As Jim Wallace said:

"We have argued a cogent case that crucial decisions on whether and how to procure a successor system to Trident need not be taken before 2014, when a clearer picture could have emerged of the proliferation of states that possess nuclear weapons and their ability to threaten ... Britain's security."—[Official Report, 21 December 2006; c 30690.]

It is important that we consider the debate in the context of whether multilateralism or unilateralism will ultimately bring the best overall result not just for Britain but for the whole world. The majority of our party support the multilateral route. There is a sizeable minority in the Liberal Democrats who support unilateralism, and there always has been, but as a party our majority position is that multilateralism is the best way forward.

It would make more sense for us to take our nuclear weapons to the table in 2010, when the next round of multilateral treaty discussions takes place, than to just say that we are going to get rid of them. Exactly how would Britain getting rid of our nuclear weapons result in North Korea, Iran or any other nation that is considering nuclear weapons deciding not to go ahead?

Sandra White: Will the member take an intervention?

Iain Smith: In a moment, when I have finished this point.

Equally, if Britain decides now to renew our nuclear deterrent and possibly increase it, how will that help to persuade the countries that are considering going down the nuclear route that they should not do so? Neither approach is correct.

Sandra White: Will the member take an intervention?

Iain Smith: The Liberal Democrat position is that we should not agree to renew Trident. We should instead reduce the number of warheads and take the remaining weapons to the table in 2010.

Sandra White: The member mentioned countries that are looking to develop nuclear weapons. How can we persuade them not to do that when Britain is renewing its nuclear weapons?

Is that not a hypocritical stance?

Iain Smith: Sandra White should have listened to what I was saying rather than try to intervene. I said clearly that we do not believe that we should renew our weapons, because that would damage multilateralism. No decision needs to be taken now on the question of renewing Britain's nuclear deterrent.

I turn to the question whether the Parliament should have this debate. Of course, the Parliament is entitled to debate any issue that it wishes. It is free to do so, and on many occasions we have debated issues over which the Parliament and, more important, the Scottish Executive have no power to act. Of course we can do that, and we should rightly do so. However, it is also important to recognise the limitations. The people of Scotland must be clear that the Scottish Parliament cannot make decisions on such matters and that we are having this debate to express views rather than to take decisions. The Scottish Parliament cannot prevent the use of nuclear weapons. That is where the Greens' and the SNP's positions are particularly inconsistent. They want Scotland to withdraw from the decision-making process on whether to renew Trident, because they do not want Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom and its defence. However, if Scotland were not part of the UK, it would have no say on whether to renew the Trident weapons system. Perhaps we would have a say on where weapons would be based, but we would not have a say on whether they should be replaced.

I cannot see any difference between nuclear weapons being based in Faslane or Falmouth. The issue is whether we should have Trident and whether we should renew it. I want Scotland to be part of a United Kingdom in which we send elected people to the UK Parliament to represent our views and have a say; to assist with decisions on whether, as part of defence policy, Trident should be renewed; and to take decisions for us. That is important to us. However, the Scottish Parliament should express its view, which I am sure it will make clear in the vote at 5 o'clock.

Alasdair Allan: Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: He is winding up.

Iain Smith: We should not withdraw from the important decision-making process in which Scotland is involved as part of the United Kingdom.
Iain Smith: On a point of order, Presiding Officer. During his speech, Bruce Crawford said that the Liberal Democrat amendment deletes the words:

"and calls on the UK Government not to go ahead at this time with the proposal in the White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent."

The amendment in the name of Mike Rumbles would not, in fact, do that; it would add some words after "Trident" but it would not leave any words out of the motion. I would be grateful if you could confirm that that is the case.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I am sure that members are able to read what is in the Business Bulletin.