This is a transcript of a debate held in the Scottish Parliament on September 23, 2015, about the Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Zero Lawsuits. The original transcript was published on the website of the Scottish Parliament.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith):
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-13558, in the name of Bill Kidd, on the non-proliferation treaty, the Marshall Islands, and the United Kingdom Government’s failure to meet its obligations. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference met again at the United Nations in New York in April/May 2015; understands that the UK signed up to and ratified the NPT in 1968, including Article VI, which creates an obligation in good faith of cessation of the nuclear arms race and achievement of nuclear disarmament; commends the government of the Marshall Islands, whose people have, it understands, suffered grievous genetic injuries through nuclear weapons testing on their territory, for its courageous legal action against the UK Government on 24 April 2014 in the International Court of Justice for the failure of the UK Government to meet its duties under the NPT; recognises the spirit of the Marshall Islanders’ actions under international law and the NPT Article VI, and notes calls for the complete removal of the Trident nuclear weapons system at Faslane from Scotland and for it not be relocated anywhere else in these islands in order to comply fully with the 1968 NPT obligations.
Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP):
With your indulgence, Presiding Officer, I welcome the honourable Alexander Kmentt, Austrian disarmament ambassador and arms control person of the year 2014, to the gallery. We are all very grateful for his efforts over the years to reduce the threat to the world of nuclear weapons—including last year, when he won the award.
I also wish to thank all the MSPs who signed my motion on the non-proliferation treaty on nuclear weapons, the Marshall Islands, and the United Kingdom Government’s failure to meet its international treaty obligations. The NPT review conference met again at the United Nations in the spring of this year. I say “again” because it meets every five years and has done so since 1970, so obviously it has not yet achieved its aims, which were set out in 1968.
The group was set up in 1968 to get countries to sign up to and ratify, as the UK did, the articles of the NPT. Article VI of the treaty creates an obligation to pursue “in good faith” the “cessation of the nuclear arms race” and the achievement of “nuclear disarmament”. We have been waiting 47 years for that good faith to come to pass.
Where does the Republic of the Marshall Islands fit into the long-term future of the international obligations of those NPT signatories that still maintain nuclear weapons arsenals? The Marshall Islands is a small Pacific nation that, after the second world war, was placed under trust status by the United Nations for protection and development by the USA. I have to say that, when I hear the name “trust” attached to something, I do not have great hopes for it. Although the idea of trust might be taken for granted by most of us, it is not delivered by nations around the world when it becomes a matter of their own best interests and, tragically, the Marshall Islands and its occupants were between 1946 and 1958 used by the US as a nuclear weapon testing ground.
During those 12 years, a total of 67 nuclear tests were carried out in the Marshall Islands, notably at Bikini and Enewetak. The total explosive yield of those tests averages out at an incomprehensible equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima-sized bombs every day for 12 years. As a result of the testing of those weapons, the people of the Marshall Islands have suffered catastrophic and irreparable damage, including genetic damage. However, the Government of the Marshall Islands does not seek financial compensation as reparation for the devastation wreaked upon its land and population. How could the problems that have been caused possibly be sorted out with money? That is too much the idea of western societies.
Instead, the Marshall Islands Government has filed nine separate applications at the International Court of Justice, one for each of the nine nuclear-armed states, as well as another lawsuit against the USA in the US Federal District Court for its actions during the trust status period. The lawsuits are intended to highlight breaches of existing international law—both article VI of the NPT and customary international law, which call for compliance with good-faith negotiations, an end to the nuclear arms race at an early date and nuclear disarmament after that. Three of the nine nuclear-armed nations—the UK, India and Pakistan—accept the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction, and oral arguments are due to proceed in the court in March 2016.
I believe that, in the spirit of those courageous actions by the Marshall Islanders under the auspices of international law—and mindful of the duties placed on the UK Government as a result of signing and ratifying the 1968 NPT obligations, in particular the provisions of article VI—all parties must follow the example of the great majority of the world’s Governments and pursue a non-nuclear weapons strategy of co-operation. That would include the UK Government halting the planned preparatory work for upgrading and replacing the Trident nuclear system at Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde, prior to its dismantling and removal, and—crucially—ensuring that Trident is not relocated to anywhere else on these islands. By doing so, the UK Government would comply fully with the UK’s obligations under the NPT.
I thank the foreign minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Hon Tony de Brum, for his friendship and support in providing an understanding of the background to this internationally important case. I express my sincere thanks for the support of the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in welcoming this debate in the Scottish Parliament and—this is really what it is all about—I thank the people of the Marshall Islands for their vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience the atrocities that have been perpetrated on their territory and people.
The Deputy Presiding Officer:
We are tight for time this evening and a number of members wish to speak in the debate, so I am minded to accept a motion from Bill Kidd, under rule 8.14.3, that the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes. Mr Kidd?
I am sorry. I was being congratulated because I was so good, and I—
The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Would you care to move a motion that the debate be extended, Mr Kidd?
Yes, I would. Thank you.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Bill Kidd.]
Motion agreed to.
The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I still ask members to keep to time, please. Several members have to leave early to go to other parliamentary events. I will try to accommodate them as best I can.
David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP):
Presiding Officer, I give you and Bill Kidd my apologies, as I will not be able to stay until the end of the debate.
I congratulate Bill Kidd on lodging the motion and allowing us to debate a highly relevant issue. As a member of the Scottish Parliament, I strongly welcome the Scottish Government’s stance on global nuclear disarmament. However, I would like to focus on two points. First, I want to speak about the disastrous effects of nuclear weapons testing. Secondly, I want to follow the motion’s call for “the complete removal of the Trident nuclear weapons system … from Scotland”.
In launching a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice against the nine nuclear weapons states on 24 April 2014, the Republic of the Marshall Islands took an unprecedented but audacious step that marks a crucial step towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. If it is successful in its claim, the Government of the Marshall Islands will demand not financial compensation but the abolition of the nuclear arsenals of the countries in question.
In light of the history of the Marshall Islands, that is a commendable decision. The Pacific island state has been the site of 67 nuclear tests. On Bikini Atoll alone, 23 nuclear bombs were tested between 1946 and 1955. That includes the first launch of a hydrogen bomb in 1952 and corresponds to 7,000 times the force of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
To remember the nuclear tests that were conducted on Bikini Atoll, the island was declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization world heritage site in 2010. In its decision, UNESCO highlighted the importance of remembering “the displacement of inhabitants, and the human irradiation and contamination caused by radionuclides produced by the tests.”
Recalling the fate of the Marshallese is paramount, as it displays to us the destructive power of nuclear weapons. Death, ill-health effects, environmental damage and resettlement issues remain matters of great concern. As an example, Bikini Atoll’s indigenous population, which was shipped out in 1946, has still not been able to resettle on its island.
I take this chance to recall once again the effects on British servicemen of nuclear weapons testing at Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean. More than 20,000 soldiers were exposed to radiation. Later on, they suffered from severe ill health and early deaths. In fact, of the 2,500 British ex-servicemen who were surveyed by the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association in 1999, 30 per cent have since died. A majority passed away in their early 50s having suffered from cancer. Additionally, the veterans association has observed higher rates of miscarriages among veterans’ wives, and veterans’ children had a 10-times higher risk of experiencing defects at birth.
Veterans in my constituency of Kirkcaldy who were part of the nuclear testing programme have experienced the effects that I have mentioned. With their families and affected ex-servicemen across the country, they are fighting the Ministry of Defence in its negligence to take responsibility for the lasting health damages that they have endured. We need to actively question the Ministry of Defence’s actions. It is about time that it started to fully support veterans’ families. It is predicted that they will face severe health problems for many generations to come.
The motion calls for the complete removal of the UK’s nuclear weapons base at Faslane. Around half of all Scots have expressed their opposition to Trident. Trident’s renewal will consume 20 to 30 per cent of the Ministry of Defence’s budget, which will put it under significant constraints.
We simply cannot ignore the fact that the UK, as a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, has an obligation to adhere to article VI. As the Scottish Government has acknowledged, international opinion is distancing itself more and more from the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There is also increasing interest in the truth about nuclear testing operations. We need to ask why the Ministry of Defence is reluctant to admit its past polices, while it insists on renewing Trident.
It is our responsibility in this chamber to put pressure on the UK Government with regards to its disarmament obligations and to press for uncovering the truth regarding nuclear testing operations, whether they have affected our own servicemen or the citizens of the Marshall Islands.
Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
I recognise Bill Kidd’s efforts in bringing the debate to the chamber, and I recognise his tale of nuclear testing’s horrific legacy. Unfortunately I must apologise to the chamber and the cabinet secretary, as I must leave the debate early because of a commitment in Fife.
The debate on Trident’s replacement is complex, and I am glad that we can explore some of the issues. I understand those who make a clear commitment against renewal, which I know comes from a deep-seated desire to see the end of nuclear weapons and a belief that not renewing Trident is a step toward that. All of us in the chamber share the desire to see the end of nuclear weapons, but often the question is how best to achieve that. Although there will be disagreements among members during these debates, we must remember that we are all striving to reach the same goal.
It would seem counterintuitive to say that Trident’s renewal would help to deliver fewer weapons, but there is an argument that the UK’s international role and influence has contributed towards de-escalation of weapons, and that the UK’s influence is partly dependent on maintaining Trident. The majority of members in the chamber are of the view that the UK and Scotland should remain in NATO and—although members may challenge this—it is argued that the UK’s nuclear capacity is central to its membership.
There is the question of compliance with the NPT obligations. There is an argument that the replacement of Trident is a like-for-like replacement and so does not breach the treaty, but it could be said that it is not in the spirit of the treaty.
No one would deny that Britain and Scotland need defence forces, but is Trident part of our future? There is a strong argument that the world has changed dramatically since the cold war. The proposition is that the threat comes no longer from big nation states having a stand-off but from terrorism, which is more targeted and hidden. What does a country’s nuclear capacity mean to a group that is attacking with no government, country or army behind it? That is the threat of the future on which our defence and intelligence community need to focus.
We are challenged to see into the future. The argument is made that work on a Trident replacement cannot be delayed, because the submarines alone could take up to 17 years to develop. We can prepare for our future defence needs only based our understanding and predictions—there are no certainties. However, others see the opportunity to reduce our nuclear capacity as one that should not be missed.
In government, Labour reduced nuclear weapons and played an international role. The United Kingdom Government has signed up to gradual disarmament, negotiated in line with other nuclear nations. We would all like to see that achieved quickly, but if we are going to be fair during the debate we should recognise the steps that have been taken. The position that we are in now is quite different from that of 10 or 20 years ago. Since 1998, all of the UK’s air-delivered nuclear weapons have been withdrawn and dismantled, and our nuclear forces have been reduced by more than 50 per cent since their cold-war peak. That is to be welcomed.
There are a range of views on Trident across the Labour Party. Kezia Dugdale and Jeremy Corbyn have both said that the party will have a debate before taking a conclusive position.
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Campaigning against nuclear weapons was not my first political experience. I went to Communist Party jumble sales and I even appeared on the front page of the Morning Star with Arthur Scargill—I did grow up in Fife, after all.
When I was 12, I went on my first visit to London, to take part in a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally of more than 300,000 people, which ended in Hyde Park. The decision to go on the rally was my first real political act. I was the youngest person on an overnight bus that was full of Labour Party members, including Alex Falconer, who was our MEP at the time; Communist Party members; political activists; and my family.
That day, there was a huge show of public rejection of the nuclear arms race, and that public movement is important to making a change in the UK and globally. I welcome the debate that Trident is generating on the choices that the UK faces.
Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing time for this debate.
Ever since the dawn of the atomic age, nuclear weapons have been a dividing issue, and the spread of different weapons of mass destruction has, by and large, defined power politics for the past seven decades. The non-proliferation treaty is a cornerstone in the attempt to create a global regime to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and, by extension, a nuclear war.
The Marshall Islands were the testing ground for US nuclear weapons. Testing stopped in 1962, but the radioactive fall-out was significant and there has been an increase in cancer cases among the population, mainly involving cancer of the thyroid. The US subsequently paid significant sums of money in compensation to the people of the Marshall Islands. As the radiation from the tests dissipates, the dangers that are posed by the radioactive isotopes decreases. However, research shows that one of the main health concerns stems from the forceful displacement of the population and the uprooting of their culture. That has had a significant negative effect on the population, as has similarly been seen among the citizens of Pripyat, who were forcefully evacuated after the Chernobyl incident.
Last year, the Marshall Islands sued the UK and all other nuclear weapons powers for breaching their obligations—stipulated in article VI of the non-proliferation treaty—to “in good faith” negotiate an end to the nuclear arms race and engage in negotiations to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. The UK Government announced a few years ago that it is continuing to cut down on warheads by another 45, thus slowly disarming according to the treaty. The case is continuing at the International Court of Justice and the outcome is uncertain. Any speculation regarding a ruling would be unwise, but the case yet again brings forward the debate about the existence of nuclear weapons.
The SNP has argued for a long time in favour of the UK unilaterally disarming itself by removing our strategic nuclear deterrent. Such a policy would not just be futile, it would also be dangerous. The common argument for unilateral disarmament, which was so often heard during the referendum campaign, is that if the UK shows the way other states will follow as they will feel less threatened and thus more inclined to disarm as well. There is no evidence for that, and no evidence that Russia or China would embark on a quest of disarmament just because we decided to do that.
There are dangers lurking in the shadows due to disarmament policies. For the duration of the cold war, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction prevented a cataclysmic war between the free world and the eastern bloc. Our nuclear arsenal ensures that Scotland is kept safe in an increasingly turbulent and dangerous world. Some might argue that the enemies of today are terrorist groups such as Islamic State and that having nuclear weapons either way does not provide any protection from that. That is probably true, but the world is constantly shifting and new threats emerge continuously. We should not and must not remove our deterrent.
It is important that we note the effects of nuclear testing not only on the Marshall Islands but around the world. Since joining the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty in the 1990s, the UK has not tested any nuclear weapons and we have gradually decreased the size of the stockpile. The fact remains, however, that we live in an unstable world where nuclear weapons are providing safety for the people of the United Kingdom, and it would be folly to give them up.
I note that the motion calls for “the complete removal of the Trident nuclear weapons” that are stored at Faslane. That would also be detrimental to employment in Argyll and Bute, as Faslane sustains 7,000 jobs in the area, which is already threatened by depopulation.
Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (Lab):
I congratulate Bill Kidd on lodging the motion, and I pay tribute to the courage and endurance of the people of the Marshall Islands after everything they have been through.
I apologise to Bill Kidd and the minister, because I must leave to chair the cross-party group on cancer, which is supposed to start now.
The motion considers Trident renewal from the point of view of the non-proliferation treaty. The non-proliferation treaty was a bargain: the nations without nuclear weapons promised not to develop them, and in exchange, nuclear weapons states promised to pursue negotiations towards nuclear disarmament. In the words of article VI, parties undertook to: “pursue negotiations in good faith on … cessation of the nuclear arms race … and … nuclear disarmament”.
It is on that basis that the people of the Marshall Islands have brought their case to the International Court of Justice. They say that the nuclear weapons states have failed to meet their obligations and are therefore in breach of international law.
Lord Murray, a former Lord Advocate as well as a former MP for Leith, has said: “It is not obvious that the UK can offer a stateable defence”.
Lord Bramall, a former chief of the defence staff, said in a debate in the House of Lords on 24 January 2007: “it is difficult to see how the United Kingdom can exert any leadership and influence on the implementation of the non-proliferation treaty … if we insist on a successor to Trident”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 January 2007; Vol 688, c 1137.]
We all know the moral objections to Trident, although not every member of this Parliament shares them. Trident would deliver death and destruction on an unprecedented and unimaginable scale. That is the core moral objection. We know, too, that money is diverted from more worthwhile causes to pay for Trident.
The motion highlights something else: the legal objections to Trident. There is a clear statement on the breach of the non-proliferation treaty. There was also a ruling of the International Court of Justice in 1996 that any use of nuclear weapons is of doubtful legality. My predecessor in Leith, Lord Murray, has argued strongly that that is also a central legal objection—indeed, a more fundamental legal objection to having nuclear weapons at all.
Those of us who want to build the case against Trident should emphasise all the dimensions of the matter—the moral arguments, the legal arguments and, increasingly, the arguments that relate to the strategic and security objectives. I quoted a former chief of the defence staff. Many people in the military object to Trident—although perhaps not all of them speak out—because they realise that there are far more useful ways to defend this country through conventional means.
Not just military people but people with a deep knowledge of the military object to Trident. Given the previous speaker, the main person to mention in that regard is the former Conservative defence secretary, Michael Portillo, who has made a strong and cogent strategic argument against the renewal of Trident.
I hope that we will have a great debate on Trident over the next few months, not just in the Labour Party but in the country, because we have never really had a meaningful debate about the issue and I think that most people still hold the views that they held 30 or 35 years ago—I am pleased to say that I do. The issues should be brought into the open, and I hope that as that happens we will see a strong coalition against Trident, which can put forward the moral arguments, the legal arguments, which the motion highlights and, fundamental to persuading the majority of people, the security and strategic arguments against Trident.
Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) (SNP):
I commend Bill Kidd for lodging the motion, and I commend the people of the Marshall Islands for bringing their case to the International Court of Justice.
The accused are: the United States, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and the UK. The plucky Marshall Islands, with a population of 70,000 people, are taking on the major military, political and economic powers. Some people have described what they are doing as a near-Quixotic venture. In my opinion, it is a brave attempt to safeguard all our futures and should never be compared to tilting at windmills.
The Marshall Islands know all about nuclear testing. As has been said, they suffered 67 United States nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s. The bomb that was exploded in one of those tests was 1,000 times greater than the Little Boy bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. They know the consequences of nuclear testing.
The Marshall islanders deserve our respect and support for bringing their case to the international court in The Hague. Beyond that, the case should give every one of the Governments that I have mentioned time to think about what they are currently doing on nuclear weapons. In particular, the UK Government should think about what it is about to embark on. Spending £100 billion on new nuclear weapons in a time of austerity is abhorrent. Spending money on nuclear weapons at any time is abhorrent, but it is particularly so when money is being cut left, right and centre and when the poorest in our society are suffering greatly.
The might of the accused—the United States, China, India, Israel, Russia, France, Pakistan, North Korea and the UK—is being tackled by a small nation of 70,000 people. Their courage is absolutely immense. I hope that the courage and determination of the Marshall Islanders will prove that nuclear weapons are a complete and utter folly and that we begin to see disarmament on this small planet of ours. Hats off to the Marshall Islanders!
Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab):
I thank Bill Kidd for bringing the motion to the chamber.
I understand that the non-proliferation treaty represents the only binding multilateral treaty with the goal of disarmament that has been signed by the nuclear weapons states. Malcolm Chisholm read from it—it is quite a document, as we would all agree. The reality is that the treaty did not stop the arms race. We know that the major powers accumulated more and more nuclear hardware. However, it set in train the process of co-operation between nuclear and non-nuclear states to prevent proliferation, which was a huge step forward that we should be thankful for. Given the dangers that we see across the globe at the moment and the instability that we have seen since the treaty was signed—the border disputes, territorial disputes, religious wars, civil wars and regional conflicts—we must all be thankful that proliferation on a mass scale, bringing in new states, did not materialise. If it materialised, we would now be in an even more perilous position. The world is a dangerous enough place without a nuclear arms race and nuclear expansionism across a range of new states and within states.
Like many members, I have always been opposed to nuclear weapons. I am opposed to the renewal of Trident and I am glad that more and more people are coming to that point of view. I do not want to see Trident sail from the Clyde to the Thames, the Mersey, the Tyne, the Barrow or anywhere else in the UK. I want the UK to be free of nuclear weapons; I want the world to be free of nuclear weapons. I want a world of peace and justice. Many share that goal—not only among those who are in the chamber but among those who are not here.
Will the member take an intervention?
I know that Mr McGrigor does not share that goal, but I will take an intervention.
I share the member’s desire for a nuclear-free world, but unilateral disarmament, when there are nuclear weapons elsewhere, is a foolish policy.
I am glad that Mr McGrigor has put that on the record. We can disagree on the tactics, but how we rid the world of nuclear weapons should be part of the debate. It is good that we start from the same position—I am pleased about that.
The Marshall Islands is a state that knows more than most. It can tell the world a lot about the impact of radiation, having been the site of the most powerful hydrogen bomb tests ever undertaken, as many members have mentioned. Given all the dreadful consequences for the people and the environment there, they have a lot to teach the world. I understand and support the Marshall Islanders’ desire to see the end of nuclear proliferation. That desire is shared by many.
I again thank Bill Kidd for securing the debate. I also thank him for the motion that he lodged yesterday in tribute to Dr Alan Mackinnon, who was a friend to many people in the peace movement, in the Communist Party and across the broad left of politics. He was a fantastic human being and his death is a great loss to progressive politics. It is up to us to keep up his work for a fair, just and more humane society that is free of nuclear weapons.
George Adam (Paisley) (SNP):
I thank Bill Kidd for bringing this important debate to the chamber. The Marshall islanders are to be commended for their strength of will and vision on the issue.
Bill Kidd mentioned that the Marshall Islands were put under trust status by the United Nations. That brought up an important word: trust. It is probably one of the most important words that we will hear in the debate. Where is the trust? Do we trust ourselves to live in a world without nuclear weapons? Do we trust our fellow nations to look to a future without nuclear weapons?
Malcolm Chisholm summed it up when he said that many of us have held the ideal of a nuclear-free world for 30-plus years. Like it did for Claire Baker, the debate started for me in the 1980s. We believed that, because of the cold war, ours would be the generation to end in nuclear Armageddon. That seems the distant past now, but teenagers had that fear in the 1980s. It was one of the reasons why I was attracted to the SNP. At the time, there was an argument over Polaris and Trident, and we are having the same debate now: should we go for the next generation of Trident? As Kevin Stewart said, it would be absolutely disgusting to spend £100 billion on such weapons when people are struggling in our nation.
I like to talk about people, because I believe that politics is about people. Today, I will talk about a man who is not from Paisley but who comes from Johnstone, which is next door. Ken McGinley was a soldier who went over to Christmas Island when Britain did its nuclear testing in the Pacific. He went across as a young man of 19—he had not been around the world before. He has become a close friend and someone whose opinion I respect. Ken told me that, when he went out there, he had never heard of the hydrogen bomb or the atomic bomb and was only vaguely aware of what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was there when Grapple Y, Britain’s biggest ever nuclear test, took place. It involved the dropping of a 3 megaton monster. As the day of the test got closer, he knew that there were soldiers who were braver than he was who were starting to have doubts. As he sat on the beach on the day of the test, he became increasingly worried about all the “crazy thoughts”—those are his words, not mine—that were going through his mind. Ken has told me exactly how he felt on that day when the bomb was tested. He wore a white overall—that was all the protection that the soldiers were given—over khaki shorts. He said: “Suddenly, before I could have any more misgivings, a voice came through the tannoy: ‘This could be a live run,’ it said dramatically. ‘Five … Four … Three … Two … One … Zero’”.
Then it happened. He was told to cover his eyes as a 3 megaton bomb was unleashed in the vicinity. At that point, he put his hands over his eyes and he could see every part of the innards of his hands. He said that when the heat came, it was not as if someone had put on an electric fire behind him; it was as if 1,000 electric fires had gone right through him.
Like many others who found themselves in his position, Ken McGinley has not had his troubles to seek. He has had many health problems. When he came back to the UK, he had an undiagnosed ulcer that burst and he collapsed. He later discovered that he was infertile, and he has had skin complaints, cysts and other conditions. That has happened to many people who were there just doing their national service. The big thing for 19-year-old Ken was a stop-off in Hawaii on the way to Christmas Island.
The nations of the world must take responsibility when they are dealing with nuclear weapons. They must admit that they were wrong to do the tests in the Pacific islands. They must learn that we need to trust one another and work together to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again and that we can have a world that no longer has nuclear weapons.
John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):
I join others in congratulating Bill Kidd on his motion. I also congratulate him on all the work that he does in the nuclear field, for which he is rightly respected around the world, and of which tonight’s debate is just the latest manifestation.
The motion refers to “an obligation in good faith”.
I suggest that successive UK Governments have found such a course of conduct very challenging when it comes to military and, especially, nuclear matters.
The motion also talks about the “cessation of the nuclear arms race”.
We know that, following the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent visit, that is not going to happen. Money is no object if the objects in question are weapons of widespread and indiscriminate civilian slaughter, as Trident is. Trident must be decommissioned, and it is good to hear voices in support of that around the chamber.
Nuclear testing is responsible for vile impacts well short of slaughter, which we know have been visited on the Marshall Islands in particular. The islands were colonised in the second millennium BC by Micronesian colonists, who gradually settled there. Like many other parts of the world, the islands were exploited successively by the Spanish, the English, the Germans, the Japanese and by the great improvers—because every island needs nuclear testing—the Americans. As we have heard, in an obscene course of behaviour the US tested 67 nuclear weapons, the largest of which was Castle Bravo.
I respect the Marshall Islanders for taking legal action—that is worthy of the term “bravo”. We know that by 1956 the US Atomic Energy Commission regarded the Marshall Islands as “by far the most contaminated place in the world”.
We know that claims are on-going. We also know that the health effects linger. We know, too, about project 4.1, which was a medical study by the US of the residents of Bikini Atoll who were exposed to the radioactive fallout. As we have seen elsewhere on the planet, the pernicious effects of the arms trade are often visited on the undeserving—not that there would ever be deserving recipients of that.
The relationships in question are about power and respect. The so-called developed countries have shown little respect to places such as the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which is worthy of our utmost respect, not least for its filing of an application for action at the International Court of Justice in 2014. The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and its role is “to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States.”
I will not rehearse the names of the nine countries of shame, but I will say that they contribute little to the cause of humanity by their course of action.
I think that we should name the accused nine as often as we can, so that people know about the perpetrators who used those weapons of mass destruction.
I take Kevin Stewart’s point—he is right that we should name them. The debate is time limited; nonetheless, I confirm that the nine countries are the United States, the United Kingdom—not in my name—and France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
The court cases are founded on the unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice in 1996, in which it stated: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
It is important to say that the legal action is about ensuring that the opinion is not allowed to lie dormant or be ignored. It covers breaches such as refusing to commence multilateral negotiations; implementing policies that are contrary to the objective of nuclear disarmament, which—as we have heard—includes the likely replacement of Trident; and breaching the obligation “to pursue negotiations in good faith” relating to “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.”
I cannot stress strongly enough the influence of the arms trade in that regard.
Our planet faces many challenges, not least climate change, which will require collaboration among nations if we are to tackle it. To my mind, it is the Republic of the Marshall Islands, rather than any one of the nine nuclear states, that demonstrably cares about humanity. I applaud the islanders’ actions and wish them every success, and I wish them well in making the world a better place.
Chic Brodie (South Scotland) (SNP):
I also thank Bill Kidd for bringing to the chamber a debate on the UK’s obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and on the plight of the Marshall Islands.
Conferences to review the NPT take place every five years. At the most recent conference in 2010, the five major nuclear powers reaffirmed “their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament”.
They also committed to undertake “further efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons.”
Of course, progress since 2010 has been sporadic, to say the least.
There has been a growing focus on, and concern about, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons from many non-nuclear states, the UN and other non-governmental organisations throughout the world. The on-going refugee crises throughout Europe and in many other parts of the world underline the importance of bringing peace and stability to many areas of the world. Our energies and strategies and our international economic drivers should be guided towards creating political and socioeconomic landscapes that allow countries to thrive and their peoples to live in peace. Foreign policy mistakes over the years have created refugee situations in many parts of the world.
The 2013 UN conference, which was organised around the topic of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, was used by non-nuclear countries to push for development of a nuclear-weapons convention that would outlaw possession of such weapons as a first step towards their total elimination. That brings into the spotlight the UK’s position on its Trident successor programme, which will, if it is approved, replace the UK’s nuclear deterrent from 2018. The UK’s nuclear deterrent is thought to consist of approximately 225 nuclear warheads; the US has approximately 5,000 and Russia is believed to have the same amount.
The 2015 NPT conference gave the UK an opportunity to make a commitment regarding the undertaking that was made in 2010, which was—I repeat—an “unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament”.
At Faslane in Scotland, we are—as we have heard today—hosts to the UK’s nuclear deterrent. It is only 25 miles from our biggest city, which has a population of 600,000. Only weeks ago, a 20-vehicle military convoy travelled across Scotland using specially built vehicles to transport nuclear weapons. John Ainslie, the co-ordinator of Scottish CND, referred to that convoy, noting that “70 years ago Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb.”
What brought me to a belief in total nuclear disarmament was a book about Hiroshima by John Hersey. He wrote: “There was no sound of planes. The morning was still; the place was cool and pleasant. Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky.”
Mr Tanimoto, the pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist church, said that “It seemed a sheet of sun” and that “he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see.”
One hundred thousand people were killed. That is why it is right that we support the people of the Marshall Islands in suing the nine countries at The Hague. It is, as they state, a “flagrant denial of human justice”.
When we consider that only one bomb, the Castle Bravo shot, was a 15 megaton bomb and was equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima blasts, and if we then apply the figures from Hiroshima exponentially, we find that it would result in 100 million deaths, which is 20 times the population of Scotland.
We support the people of the Marshall Islands and wish them success. The people of Scotland do not want nuclear weapons. It is time that the UK took its obligation to the NPT seriously. Trident renewal will cost the UK £100 billion and Scotland might have to pay its share. Let Scotland confront that and let it be a beacon to the rest of the world as a country that wholly rejects nuclear weapons and takes its obligation to the NPT seriously.
The Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities (Keith Brown):
I thank Bill Kidd for securing the debate. As John Finnie did, I acknowledge the wider work that Bill Kidd has done for a number of years in pursuit of the abolition of nuclear weapons. As has been mentioned, he has a growing international reputation for that. In my view, the Parliament is lucky to have him.
Bill Kidd’s debate has provided an opportunity for members from across the chamber to make clear their position on whether they believe that the UK Government is committed to nuclear disarmament and is doing all that it can to make it a reality. The Scottish Government has been consistent and steadfast in its opposition to the possession and the threat of nuclear weapons. We have called on the UK Government to lead by example on disarmament and, in light of the location and impact of Trident in Scotland, to work with us on its safe and complete withdrawal.
However, as George Osborne’s announcement of 31 August demonstrates, the UK Government continues to prepare the way for a new generation of Trident-carrying submarines operating from HM Naval Base Clyde into the second half of this century and potentially beyond. It is difficult for me, and I think for many others, to reconcile that stance with a genuine commitment towards nuclear disarmament.
Although the case that the Republic of the Marshall Islands is bringing against the UK Government is a matter for the International Court of Justice, the Scottish Government can certainly sympathise with the Marshall Islands on the issue of nuclear weapons. Our history of nuclear weapons is of course different from that of the Marshall Islanders, as we have heard, but we share a common belief that there should be no place for nuclear weapons in our world today, and that there is an obligation on each and every nation to do all that it can to realise that vision.
We therefore recognise the frustration of the Marshall Islanders and the frustration of many nations, organisations and individuals, including some in the chamber and in the public gallery today, at the apparent lack of progress in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. Although some members have mentioned the reduction in the number of warheads, there has been no mention of the increase in the capacity of those warheads that has occurred at the same time.
I would like to respond to the arguments that have been put forward in support of nuclear weapons, although they have been fairly rare tonight. We have heard a great deal of talk about the role of nuclear weapons in national and international security. I, and I think many members who are in the chamber, do not accept the suggestion that they are a necessary evil. Nuclear weapons do not make us more secure. As the UK and other states have unfortunately seen, the possession of nuclear weapons has not deterred terrorist acts. In fact, if we think about it for a second, the very presence of terrorist acts should make us more concerned about possession of nuclear weapons in the first place.
We had a kind of Orwellian use of language from Jamie McGrigor, when he said or implied that it is more dangerous not to have nuclear weapons than it is to have them. That is the kind of argument that we were led into during the nuclear arms race, and we should reject it.
As Malcolm Chisholm and others have said, some very high-level military and political figures have spoken out. Michael Portillo said that Trident has “completely passed its sell-by date”.
He went on to say that it is a “waste of money” and is no deterrent to the Taliban.
Malcolm Chalmers, who is well known in defence circles, has said: “Even if the MoD manages to secure the continuing 1% annual growth in total equipment spending to which this government has committed itself, sharp increases in spending on Trident renewal in the early 2020s seem set to mean further years of austerity for conventional equipment plans.”
It is worth bearing in mind that the cost of Trident is equivalent to a third of the capital budgets of all three armed services. I can tell members from my experience that many people in the services believe that it is a far worse deal to invest £100 billion in Trident than it is to invest in the soldiers who have received P45s while serving on the front line or in conventional defence, in which there have been massive cuts.
Toby Fenwick, from CentreForum, has said: “Replacing Trident is nonsensical. There is no current or medium term threat to the UK which justifies the huge costs involved.”
Even to get to a position of trying to justify Trident on security grounds, anyone who supports the purchase of Trident must have a moral case for it and accept that there must be circumstances in which it would be legitimate to use nuclear weapons. I think that most members in the chamber would reject that argument. There is no circumstance—none that I can think of—in which it would be justifiable to use nuclear weapons. The other side of the argument is that nobody can support having nuclear weapons if they do not at the same time support the view that there are circumstances in which it would be possible and acceptable to use them. However, unlike most conventional defences, Trident is utterly indiscriminate; it would destroy civilian populations, who may have played no part in the beginnings of a war but who would suffer hugely. The majority of casualties will be civilian casualties when any nuclear weapon is used.
As for the argument that nuclear weapons provide a security blanket against some unspecified future threat, what role do they have in responding to the real, long-term issues that we face, such as climate change, which was mentioned by John Finnie and others, sustainable economic development and mass migration? It is the Scottish Government’s view that the UK’s nuclear weapons are maintained, and would be renewed, at the expense of conventional defence equipment and personnel, which are capabilities that have far more utility in responding to current and future threats. It is therefore our position that HMNB Clyde has a valuable role to play as a conventional naval base. There is a range of political and economic reasons why the nuclear weapons states would not to go to war with each other today or in the future. I, for one, do not believe that we can credibly argue that nuclear weapons are necessary for our security.
There have been many good speeches in the debate, such as Kevin Stewart’s on the nature of the fight that is being undertaken by the Marshall Islanders, who have been supported by most members who have spoken. I very much appreciated Malcolm Chisholm’s welcome for the debate because that has not always been the response that we have had when we have raised the issue of Trident in the chamber. As a number of members have mentioned, it is vitally important for Scotland that we have a debate on Trident.
As recent history has shown, so long as any country has nuclear weapons, other countries will want them. It is as well to point out the dilemma in trying to say to other countries, “No, you can’t have them. You’re not responsible but we are. We can have them because we are more responsible than you.” There is no moral force behind that argument. The consequences of a nuclear exchange, whether by accident or design—of course, there is always the potential for accidents or misunderstandings—would be unspeakable human suffering. We heard from Chic Brodie about the strength of some of the bombs that have been tested in the Marshall Islands, so we can imagine the level of human suffering that they would cause as well as the huge environmental damage, like what has been suffered in the Marshall Islands.
As we debated in the Parliament on 20 March 2013, the Scottish Government supports UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s five-point plan on nuclear disarmament as a framework for the UK and other nuclear weapons states to take serious and significant steps towards nuclear disarmament. We therefore call again on the UK Government to cancel plans to renew its Trident submarine fleet and to lead the way in both negotiations and actions towards nuclear disarmament.
A quote from the International Committee of the Red Cross puts into focus the threat of nuclear weapons and the responsibility that we share in pursuing their withdrawal:
“Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time, and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations, and indeed to the survival of humanity.”
Some mention was made in the debate of how long we have held such views. I remember proposing a motion exactly on these lines to the first committee on disarmament in a model United Nations debate in the United Nations building in New York in 1986, which was passed. I would very much hope to see further success for that kind of motion and point of view at the United Nations in New York. The Scottish Government supports the aims of Bill Kidd’s motion.
Meeting closed at 18:04.