“Scrapping Trident” debate – what conference voted for today

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Here follows the text of the motion passed by conference this afternoon at the end of the debate entitled “Scrapping Trident” on the agenda.

I have shown the original motion in normal text with the original line numbers, and lines through the text which was deleted by conference. In italics I have shown the text inserted by virtue of conference voting for Amendment 1:

Motion begins:
1 Conference notes that the go-ahead for building Successor submarines
2 for the Trident system is scheduled to be decided upon in 2016.
3 Conference believes that British possession of nuclear weapons is
4 inappropriate and unhelpful to today’s needs.

5 Conference rejects the projected spending of £100billion on the system
6 over its lifetime, believing the money could be better spent.

In line with our existing policy as set out in policy paper 112, Defending the Future – UK Defence in the 21st century (2013), and our recent General Election Manifesto, conference resolves to oppose like-for-like replacement of the Trident system as proposed by the Conservative government. Conference believes that the ‘Maingate’ decision to proceed with Trident replacement is such a fundamental question affecting the UK’s national interest that it should be subject to a binding vote in Parliament and not simply a government decision; and calls on Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians to vote against any such proposal should it come before Parliament. Conference further calls on the Federal Policy Committee to:
1. Commission a Policy Working Group to develop policy on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, if any, following a full consultation within the party.
2. Include within the remit of the working group consideration of: a) A full assessment of potential strategic threats to the UK. b) Prospects for the promotion of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and the UK’s potential role in these efforts. c) The implications of a non-nuclear defence posture for the UK on conventional defence capabilities and the UK’s place in the world, including its contribution to the security of Europe through NATO. d) The scope for and implications of a scaled-down nuclear deterrent. e) Independent costings of options.
3. Bring a policy paper back for debate at Conference within 18 months, including if necessary options for conference to decide.

7 Conference therefore calls for the plans to renew the Trident system to
8 be scrapped, and for the earliest decommissioning of the existing Trident
9 forces.

Motion ends.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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25 Comments

  • Conor Clarke 21st Sep '15 - 6:54pm

    Good

  • Andreas Christodoulou 21st Sep '15 - 7:27pm

    Wait, the party is no longer in favour of scrapping Trident?

  • Evidence-based policy making – good.

    Can we nix once and for all this myth that Trident is not independent?

    The boats are built in the UK (near Tim’s constituency – I bet many of the Barrow workers live in it).
    The warheads are built at Aldermaston.
    The missiles are built and maintained as part of a stock in the US, but once fitted with a warhead and included within the submarine are under the control of the British Government.

  • @Andreas
    Though my eyes glazed over two thirds through reading the motion, it appears your party is neither in favour of scrapping Trident, nor in favour of keeping it.

  • No, Stuart the Lib Dems were not previously in favour of “scrapping Trident”. The current version is very much a continuation – “No like for like replacement”.
    TCO All the evidence, from the very beginning of “Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent” is that we could not fire it without explicit US say-so.

  • First of all the UK can fire it’s own nukes this was handed over to the British Government when Thatcher was in power, now whether we would need to tell the Government in America what we are doing is another thing, but the firing sequence is ours .

    Now then reading this the Liberals are it seems to me saying we should keep the old Nukes and not replace them, but these nukes are now coming to the end of their lives so we either replace them or get rid of them.

    But I suspect what this means now what ever the Tories end up deciding the Liberals will say your stealing our plans our policies or idea’s. which seems to be running through the Liberals of late.

  • nigel hunter 21st Sep '15 - 11:22pm

    Robert- Both the Tories AND Labour have been steeling our ideas etc. since the 70s when I started to get involved.

  • nigel hunter 21st Sep '15 - 11:25pm

    AND in history even before the 70s!!

  • Conor McGovern 22nd Sep '15 - 1:49am

    Either we upgrade Trident, scrap it or have this soon-to-be outdated system. We’ve gone for the latter… Why not ditch Trident and help our poorly equipped armed forces? I’m far from supporting the West’s oil crusades but why send men and women into battle with inadequate resources, while spending potentially billions to maintain a nuclear weapons system that fails to meet our 21st century needs?
    I only hope when this panel reach their conclusions we can reach an equally radical and logical defence policy once and for all.

  • Terry Gilbert 22nd Sep '15 - 7:34am

    No point in tying ourselves to Corbynite unilateralism when the Tories are going ahead with it anyway, and we will need a policy at the next election which takes account of what has happened by then. A reasoned tactical decision in the circumstances – we can keep banging on about the excessive cost (between a quarter and a third of the entire defence budget from 2018-2032, I read on here?) but we have a defence to the Tory jibes that we are as dangerous to national security as Labour. They may not be true, but they are effective, as 1983 showed.

  • Terry
    Well, it’s interesting to see if “Teflon Dave” (think Coulson, Bullingdon etc) survives untarnished the slings and arrows of Ashcroft on foreign / defence policy. There is no doubt in my mind, and I am sure in other minds with a lot more military / diplomatic experience that Dave has been incompetent in Libya, Syria etc. This serialisation comes at an “interesting” time for Dave, considering the upcoming vote on bombing Syria. A full-on discreditation could well have side effects on the public reaction to massive spending on Trident replacement. Whereas it could be seen as likely that we may need conventional forces to deal with various potentially likely situations, the range of situations that a necessarily minimal nuclear sea-based missile system could be used effectively against is vanishingly small. The only other reason to have it is the old “international status” argument. Well, Germany these days (aside from membership of the Permanent 5 at the UN Security Council) has probably higher international status. And rather than paying out £100 bn for higher status, we can benefit our own people, our conventional forces, and probably put an amount in the pot for climate change mitigation and assistance for human migration issues.

    What are we going to do? Fire Trident or its replacement at a column of refugees?

  • Incidentally, Terry, you speak of “Corbynite” unilateralism – our party has at least as major a unilateral tradition as the Labour Party!

  • @Tim13 and @Terry
    Much more so than the labour party, I suspect. Despite 13 years of unbridled government, and years of opposition – stopping Trident and disarmament didn’t ever appear to become Labour policy (happy to be proven wrong). Corbyn,despite his own views, will still have to fight his party on this issue.

    Whereas, for at least 10 years (I think), we’ve had a policy against its replacement, founded on both economic and moral grounds.

    The above ammendment is an improvement, not because I disagreed with the previous aim, but because it grounds us firmly in evidence based policy.

    However, the leadership will now need some expert guidance into
    a) our proposed procedure for evidence gathering.
    b) policies the party is likely to support (caveat based on the evidence available).

    However I fully encourage them to say
    c) X is my view / hope, though others in the party may disagree. However, as a party, we’ve committed to policy based on evidence regardless of our own varying positions.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Sep '15 - 8:55am

    This gives the impression that after thinking about this for 5 years in Government (which included approving investment in the replacement for Trident in order to kick making a decision into the long grass), and umpteen years in Opposition, the Lib Dem official position on Trident is a sort of collective shrug of the shoulders and “Dunno, mate, let’s think about it some more and hope somebody else makes a decision before we have to”.

  • @Peter Watson

    You’re right, and as such the policy will always need to be framed by informed opinion, costed potential solutions/ proposals, and a justification that the world has already changed since we left government & we don’t yet know what state the tory government will leave us, trident and the armed forces in.

    It’s a difficult sell, but the right one, if we can avoid the trap above. (Good luck anyone who has to answer for it).

  • @Tim 13 “TCO All the evidence, from the very beginning of “Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent” is that we could not fire it without explicit US say-so.”

    Do you have any links for this?

    @AM whilst we’ve committed to an evidence-based policy, I’m not sure every member is prepared to decide on the evidence.

  • AC Trussell 22nd Sep '15 - 4:17pm

    It is madness to spend so much money on something that is totally useless. As they say they will never have to use it – someone will have to attack first!- end of story!!
    Unilateral disarmament is obvious to me. It may change nothing apart from making other countries wonder why they are spending/wasting so much money. The other fear-driven countries will never give up the mind-set together-; that mass death and destruction gives them power. Perhaps they will become enlightened!
    The NHS is on the verge of collapse, the biggest battle for the balance and future of life on this planet is actually taking place NOW!
    We should be spending every possible penny on renewable energy. Apart from helping to slow down climate change
    it would really help in bringing peace to this planet, taking away the power of the oil countries and helping to stop mass migration to come.
    It wasn’t this madness that stopped war in Europe – it is common sense, education and communication. The later has increased incredibly.
    I could say more but I am wasting my time with the Tory/fearful and imagination-less mindset.
    By the way – Getting rid of Trident would get many more votes than losing them ,and show that we are human beings.

  • jedi
    The quote you use here sounds remarkably like “We’ll make it up as we go along”, which both sounds plausible, and so, so, very British!

  • Amazing ….We need Trident as a deterrent against states that such retaliation could deter; Russia/China?…Yet, at the same time China is building, and will control, nuclear power stations in the UK…You couldn’t make it up!….

    post 3 of 3,,,,Bye

  • John Tilley 23rd Sep '15 - 9:35am

    Cllr Mark Wright 22nd Sep ’15 – 10:21am
    “….In the amendment selection vote of #1 vs #2, many opposed to both amendments didn’t vote, but if they were sensible they should have compromised and voted for the amendment they disliked least, I.e. #2. Then the final vote would have been against a much more agreeable amendment (and the one I supported, of course!)”

    Mark, what you say here is right and entirely logical. It identifies a weakness of those organising Liberal Democrat Conference debates which has been around since before I was a member of the Conference Committee more than 20 years ago. They love to make the voting and the debates confusing. I guess the powers that be like this approach as it provides the leadership with the maximum number of escape routes.

    There was no need to have had either amendment. Nothing in the original moton precludes a committee of the party going on to making sensible arrangements for a policy for 2020 which could be as “multilateral” as they like. (I find the 1950s multi/uni lateral language especially unhelpful but some people seem unable to drop the habits of the last 60 years).

    A reference to a committee of fudge and long grass was not necessary. If there was a majority who thought that delay was the most important objective in the debate they could have simply voted down the original motion.

    The current Federal Conference Committee might like to discuss this point. Where a clear, straight forward motion offers a simple choice please do not add unnecessary complication and confusion by adding in either/or options for amendments.

    What was agreed by virtually everyone who spoke in the debate was that Tim Farron will lead the charge in Parliament (Commons and Lords) against replacement of Trident. Tim himself has said that. Everyone has said that.

    More members of the public will hear the result of the debate in Parliament and how Liberal Democrats vote in that than will even be aware of what happened this week in Bournemouth, which is perhaps a good thing.

  • 5 Conference rejects the projected spending of £100billion on the system
    6 over its lifetime, believing the money could be better spent.

    Shame such sense wasn’t shown in 2010, then the LibDem’s could of used their position in government to quash the HS2 vanity project and thus save around £1bn of government expenditure made during the life of Coaltion. As it is now it looks as if taxpayers will be spending circa £100bn on the HS2 system over the next 35 years…

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