Commons debate highlights damaging existing impact of nuclear weapons

By staff writers
January 30, 2015

Though the recent cross-party attempt to gain a House of Commons vote against the £100 billion renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system was defeated by the Conservative-led Government, with support from a number of Labour MPs, important points were put on the record about the humanitarian and environmental impact of these WMDs.

As well as being available on Hansard, this has been helpfully documented by ICAN UK, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Angus Roberston MP (SNP), Joan Ruddock MP (Labour) and Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour) all referred to their own participation at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons, held in December 2014 and attended by 157 countries, including representatives of the UK.

“The issue of Trident replacement comes at a time when the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are being taken seriously by the international community”, said Angus Robertson.

“The overwhelming majority of countries attended the international conference on the subject hosted by the Austrian Government… which had a huge impact, forcing attendees to confront the calamity of what would actually happen should there be a planned or unintended nuclear explosion. The UK and other countries need to give a commitment that they will take this issue seriously”. He went on to ask, “Will the Government ensure that the issues raised at the Vienna conference are discussed at the meeting of the P5 nuclear weapons states in February?”

“It is instructive to inquire how other countries and institutions view the nuclear weapon states”, said Joan Ruddock, who quoted the International Red Cross & Red Crescent’s statement to the Vienna Conference: “Even though only a few states currently possess nuclear weapons, they are a concern to all states… They can only bring us to a catastrophic and irreversible scenario that no one wishes and to which no one can respond in any meaningful way”.

Citing the Austrian Government’s pledge issued at the end of the Conference, in which they promised “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition… of nuclear weapons”, Ms Ruddock said that “renewal of Trident flies in the face of such international action and it must not be allowed to do so”.

Jeremy Corbyn said he hoped that the findings of the Vienna Conference would give Members pause for thought before talking “glibly” about nuclear deterrence: “If anyone anywhere in the world uses a nuclear weapon of any size, millions die and there is an environmental catastrophe, a global recession, a food shortage and a nuclear winter. It would mean the destruction of an awful lot of things that we hold very dear”.

Sir Nick Harvey MP (Liberal Democrat) also referred to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, “which I think are singularly under-perceived in this country and many others, although that is changing fast. The participation of many Governments at conferences – the first in Oslo, the second in Mexico, and the most recent in Vienna – is bringing a far greater degree of awareness around the globe of the impact of using nuclear weapons”.

He went on to say that “very few signatories to [the NPT] treaty can have imagined that by 2015 so little progress would have been made. Things are stirring and changing, and the British Government need to wake up to that”.

Turning to the global consequences of use of UK nuclear weapons, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP (SNP) reminded the House of the 1980s, “when nuclear annihilation was seriously talked about and people did seem to comprehend the awful, frightening and terrifying possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. Over time, people have perhaps become more blasé and this has crept into our discourse, so there is a not as much understanding of the insanity of nuclear weapons as there used to be”.

Nick Harvey said he thinks people in this country underestimate the consequences of using our nuclear weapons: “if we were to unleash the payload of one of our submarines, the consequences would be global and felt for at least a decade, and at least a billion people would be at risk of dying. The more widely that is understood, the more inconceivable it is that any sane person could ever push the button, and the more widely that is understood, the less deterrent effect the possession of this great paraphernalia comes to have”.

Joan Ruddock pointed to recent research which shows that “a larger nuclear exchange, including that involving UK weapons, would result in a true nuclear winter, making agriculture impossible… climate effects lasting more than a decade and up to 2 billion people dying of starvation”.

Angus Robertson said, “I have yet to hear a supporter of Trident convincingly explain in what circumstances they would be prepared to justify the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children and the causing of massive environmental damage to the world for generations to come. Those are the consequences of using nuclear weapons, and surely if one has them, one has to be prepared to use them”.

Caroline Lucas (Green Party) said, “it is short-sighted and dangerous for Britain to rely on a weapon of mass destruction that, if launched, would put our own survival at risk”.

Mike Weir MP (SNP) and Pete Wishart (SNP) both referred to the dangers of the road convoys which regularly bring nuclear weapons through the city of Glasgow – “lorries carrying all sorts of parts to service and keep this genocidal arsenal roll happily along the roads of Scotland almost unnoticed and untroubled with their death-maintaining cargo”.

The debate took place at Westminster on 29 January 2015.

Trident replacement may well feature in the run-up to and aftermath of the 2015 UK general election, with divisions on it in the Labour Party, some dissent within the Lib Dems, and the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green 'progressive alliance' suggesting that not renewing the weapons system would be a major issue for them in considering support for a minority non-Conservative government.

* More from ICAN here:

* More on Trident and opposition to it from Ekklesia:

* More on 2015 General Election issues from Ekklesia:

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