Ministers demand Trident debate

A trio of senior ministers have demanded a full discussion on Britain’s nuclear policy in the wake of the decision not to debate the issue at this year’s Labour conference.

The party yesterday blocked attempts to launch an emergency debate on whether to replace nuclear deterrent Trident – at an estimated cost of £25 billion – sparking accusations they were trying to gag delegates.

Peter Hain, Hilary Benn and Harriet Harman protested at having their vote on Trident denied by the conference arrangement committee – who ignored 17 motions on the issue – and urged the government to open up the discussion.

Mr Benn, the international development secretary, called for a debate “both in conference, in the party, in the country and in parliament”.

“The threat that we face in the world has changed but there’s a real debate to be had over how we put that commitment into effect,” he added.

Speaking at a New Statesman fringe meeting at the conference in Manchester, Mr Hain, the Northern Ireland secretary, and Ms Harman, the constitutional affairs minister, backed Mr Benn’s demands.

“We were elected on a manifesto to keep Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. The issue is what we replace it with,” Mr Hain said.

“The debates about that shouldn’t be confined to a couple of cabinet ministers.

“It should involve the party, it should involve the movement, it should involve people in civil society and the wider public who have something to contribute.”

Ms Harman added: “There are choices to be made about what that money is spent on. Of course people need to have a view. And it’s their security too.”

It would be “a bit risky” to give up Britain’s nuclear deterrent system, Tony Blair warned at a conference event last night.

“To be sure and to be safe about it, it’s probably sensible to renew it,” he said.

“But we will have a full debate about it and there are opposing views.”

CND chairwoman Kate Hudson slammed yesterday’s decision as a “travesty of democracy”, accusing Labour of trying to suppress an open debate.

Ms Hudson told the Press Association yesterday that this year’s conference was the “only possible opportunity for the Labour party to debate the issue”, and argued “ruling out the resolutions means that the conference will not have any say in the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons system”.

The decision was “quite extraordinary”, she said, “given that there have been repeated statements by the government that a debate will take place”.

Around 20 motions on the leadership have also been ignored by the conference arrangements committee.