Commons debate - HM Naval Base Clyde

Array ( [0] => HofC Oral Answers to Questions ) HofC Oral Answers to Questions, HM Naval Base Clyde, 28 May 2015, Column 293

HM Naval Base Clyde

4.51 pm

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): I should first thank the Justice Secretary. In his anxiety to avoid answering a simple question, he has extended the time available for the Adjournment debate by 10 minutes, with his customary generosity. I have to acknowledge the role that he has played. Perhaps he wants to join us and focus on the key issue of safety at Her Majesty’s naval base at Clyde.

I am delighted to have won this Adjournment debate. I regret slightly that I am not able to make a maiden speech for my new constituency of Gordon, largely because Gordon is a constituency of outstanding landscapes and natural beauty. Few constituencies can compare with Gordon, but one of the few that can is the constituency so ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). It is a constituency of stunning natural beauty far too great to be polluted by the obscenity of weapons of mass destruction. I am grateful for the Minister’s agreement to allow my hon. Friend to say a few words. This is a matter of constituency as well as general interest to him.

I want to do three things in the debate this evening. First, I want to get some detailed answers from the Ministry of Defence. We had today in a written statement from the Secretary of State for Defence 500 words of the suffocating bland complacency that typifies so much of the MOD’s reaction to serious concerns. I knew the Secretary of State for Defence at university and, although I might have accused him of many things, he was neither bland nor complacent. He seems to have picked up some bad habits in his tenure as Secretary of State for Defence. We want detailed answers to detailed questions this evening.

Secondly, I want to examine the lessons from the working, or indeed malfunctioning of the reactor prototype HMS Vulcan at Dounreay and what that tells us about the safety concerns at the Faslane base. The difficulties that that reactor has experienced and the MOD’s reaction to them give us serious cause for concern. Thirdly, I want to examine the inherent safety concerns about nuclear reactors, made double of course by the fact that the nuclear reactors in this case are associated with nuclear weapons and tripled by the fact that the nuclear weapons are on a submarine. That tells us that there is an inherent unsafe aspect to Trident submarines. How can that be reconciled with the new political reality in Scotland, where by my count 57 Members of Parliament out of 59 oppose the renewal of the Trident deterrent in Scotland?

I say 57 not because I am expecting an imminent by-election in Scotland, but because the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) is on the record as opposing the renewal of Trident. I congratulate him on his recent promotion to the Labour Front Bench—I should say that we have been the cause of that promotion. I hope that that promotion to the Front Bench does not mean that he has undergone some mind-melding process over the last week. I hope that he will stay faithful to the commitments made to his constituents publicly on his opposition to the renewal of Trident as a nuclear device.


28 May 2015 : Column 294

I want to start with the claims made by Able Seaman McNeilly—claims that are published via WikiLeaks and also through the excellent journalism of the Sunday Herald. Briefly, those claims—I know that the Minister will treat them seriously and give us the detailed answers that we seek—are, first, that at the final security checkpoint in Faslane naval base, no security checks of ID cards were made, that the PIN code system was broken and that both Navy personnel and contractors were allowed access with no verification of identity. Secondly, aboard a vessel, on the missile compartment deck, no one asked for identification or checked to see whether personnel were on the list providing them with access to that part of the submarine. Thirdly, bags coming on board the submarine were going unchecked. It would be extraordinary, Mr Speaker, if we had a greater level of security in the House of Commons than might exist at that nuclear naval base.

Fourthly, the vast majority of equipment onboard may be defective. It was alleged that HMS Vanguard was in the worst condition and had to be recalled to port several times, forcing other vessels to do extended patrols. Fifthly, it is alleged that a problem with one of the nuclear reactors aboard one of the SSBNs had been found and an instructor had suggested that all the