I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to the debate.
I represent the great city of Plymouth, where we have a long and proud naval history. Plymouth is where the Vanguard-class submarines are repaired and refitted.
I will not an overly lengthy contribution today, but I would like to give my experience of the representations made in my constituency, where the Trident programme plays such a significant role in our local economy.
Representatives of Plymouth, sent here to represent our famous naval city, have always taken very seriously our twin responsibilities—to the nation’s security and to the employment prospects of those who have loyally maintained, and continue to maintain, the submarines that carry Trident missiles.
The Vanguard submarines are repaired and refitted at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth. For me and my colleagues who represent Plymouth, they are a vital source of employment for thousands, as they are for other Members with naval bases in their constituencies. That source is not as easily replaced as some might think, and my colleagues’ view and mine is that it would be simply a gamble too far.
We live in a desperately unstable world. Last weekend was perhaps the most unstable for years. That should not in itself be an argument for maintaining our Trident programme, but it illustrates how we simply cannot predict events beyond next week, let alone far in the future.
National security is fundamental to delivering all that we come into politics to deliver—a fairer society, social justice and opportunities for all. Without it, none of the causes that I know I share with many Opposition Members would be achievable. The Government has a responsibility to put the security of the nation and its people first and foremost. We need to maintain our ultimate deterrent, because we simply do not know what the future holds.
I am not deaf to those concerned about the costs and risks of maintaining the fleet in Plymouth. There is an active community of people who write to me often about that issue. As with any other contentious issue, I have sought to understand the arguments. I speak to those who agree with me and, more importantly, to those who disagree with me. On this issue, however, I am single-mindedly sure: we must maintain our commitment to this programme and replace the Vanguard-class submarines with the new Successor class. Strategically, we cannot and should not wear the risk that comes with abandoning our continuous at-sea deterrence, and the message that that would send to our NATO allies.
Chris Law MP:
The hon. Gentleman represents Plymouth. There has been a lot of debate about relocating Trident to Plymouth. Would he support that move?
Johnny Mercer MP:
Absolutely, I would support that move. I would love to have all the jobs that would come with that. We would be more than happy to have it and to build on our naval heritage in that way.
Dr Andrew Morrison MP:
I assure my hon. Friend that all of us who represent constituencies in the south-west would be more than delighted if the work was transferred from Scotland to the south-west, in the event that our deterrent was to move.
Johnny Mercer MP:
Absolutely. We are proud of our naval heritage in the south-west—we are very proud of the people we support, our servicemen and servicewomen, and we would be delighted to make their lives easier by providing the facilities the south-west affords. Locally, the deterrent means thousands of jobs in Plymouth and a continuance of the Plymouth naval tradition that makes so many of us so proud. It is part of the fabric of our city. To lose that would be disastrous for the communities I am here to represent.
Let us not abstain tonight. Let us not play to our home crowd. Let us stand up for Britain’s place in the world and renew our nuclear deterrent. I say to Opposition Members—not to Scottish National party Members, because I have been struck by their rather childlike interventions about Libya and Iraq, which are totally separate issues—that I know many of my friends on the Labour Benches are of a similar mind to me on this issue. To those who are not, I say that I do not believe they love the country less in any way than those who support the motion. However, all the things we come into politics for are nothing without national security, and that must come first. To deliver the causes that I know are so dear to them and to me, we must renew our nuclear deterrent.
All steps must be taken to ensure the safety of this country’s people. The highly skilled engineering jobs I have talked about cannot be risked. Now, with everything that is going on — not just last weekend, but in the past year — it is not the time to lower our guard. The Prime Minister mentioned North Korea. Can we really lose our nuclear weapons at this time? In an ideal world, I agree that it would be great not to have nuclear weapons, but how do we disinvent something that has been invented? The Government must base their decisions on the reality they face; others have the luxury to do otherwise. Trident remains the ultimate deterrent against an attack by those who would harm this country and our people, as it has been for 60 years. The point was made earlier that the Trident system is never used. It is used, every single day. A nuclear deterrent does what it says. The Government’s first priority is to ensure the safety and security of the nation and its people, and that is why I will support the Government’s motion tonight; I will be proud to walk through the Lobby with colleagues from across the House.