SCOTTISH DELEGATION to AWE and THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
11/12 JUNE 2006
It was a pleasure to welcome the Scottish Delegation of MSPs and Church Leaders to Southern England, and a treat to work with John Ainslie from Scottish CND, who brought this distinguished delegation together and with Greenpeace staff, Simon Clydesdale and Louise Edge. Apologies were received from delegate Bashir Maan who unfortunately was too unwell to travel, and whom we wish a speedy recovery.
This unique visit by Scotland’s senior public representatives, was not welcomed by AWE, who, after a delay of several week, decided not to meet them. One wonders what it is that the company has to hide?: Incompetence, shame, or fear of criticism. Either AWE is not willing, or is not entrusted by the MoD, to defend its Strategic Site Development Plan when an opportunity is offered. Undeterred, the delegation came to see the site from outside the perimeter fence.
We were grateful to Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Reading for welcoming the delegation at the hotel and for engaging with the issues and the impact of AWE on the local community. Philip Austen, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, and Kate Hudson, CND, were welcome guests who helped oil the wheels of friendship throughout the programme. Rebecca Johnson, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, was our resident expert in the wider disarmament field, and Richard Maguire, Mountbatten Centre for International Studies, brought an historical perspective to current dilemmas. In London, John Finney, Pugwash, Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi and David Ryall, Catholic Bishops Conference joined us for a discussion with MPs.
Consultation with Westminster MPs Gavin Strang and Michael Connarty began early in the year, to establish the kind of meetings that would be most useful. The decision not to make the meetings top heavy with English counterparts enabled delegates to get to know each other and the further decision to invite counterparts with a wide range of experience, gave an opportunity for new people to get together to discuss current developments at AWE. The approach to AWEplc regarding the delegation’s visit was made from MSP Robin Harper’s office. No approach was made by NIS to AWE, except for AWE publications that were provided promptly.
A paper by John Ainslie entitled “ What next for Aldermaston?” briefed delegates on the possible scenarios and time-scales indicated by AWE’s Strategic Development Plan. It concluded, “The MoD and AWE are trying to pre-empt the government’s decision on whether to replace Trident by building new facilities at Aldermaston and Burghfield.”
Southern Media Interest
A Media Advisory notice, co-ordinated and sent out widely by Louise Edge, Greenpeace Media Officer, attracted a good deal of interest in the week before the visit. Such was the volume of response that we brought forward our timetable to allow an extra half hour for media interviews at the main gate of AWE from 10.15am on Monday 12th June. However, expected journalists and camera crews did not come and we were left wondering what had happened to their original enthusiasm. Fortunately, Greenpeace arranged for a professional videographer and still photographer to record events and the story and pictures were sent by e-mail to national, regional and local media. But this footage was not used nationally or regionally, only locally, except in Scotland and by the Morning Star in England.
Tour of AWE Site
The delegation had a guided tour of AWE from outside the wire by Juliet McBride, stopping at key points, particularly to view the Citadel area where warhead production is centred. Thames Valley, Hampshire and MoD Police (MDP) were present at about three times the normal level around AWE, and wholly inappropriate for the personnel in the delegation, whose names had all been submitted to AWE. At the main gate, both delegates and camera crew were confined in a barrier pen near the exit to the site. A written request to speak to a senior manager, made earlier when access was refused, remained unacknowledged. The delegation repeated the request verbally but again, this request was refused. Letter to Defence Minister Des Browne
Finally, the copy of a letter to the Secretary of State for Defence calling for transparency, openness and disarmament measures was handed to the only person prepared to accept it: a clerk at the reception desk. Only two delegates were permitted near the actual gate and the camera crew were refused access to film the hand over.
At Portcullis House, Westminster we met Hans Blix, whose cheerful handshake with each delegate contrasted with the discourteous conduct of AWE. Thanks are due to Carol Naughton from Pugwash and Rebecca Johnson for facilitating this exchange. Questioned after the presentation of his new report: Weapons of Terror, Dr. Blix said:
"Any state contemplating the modernisation of its nuclear weapon systems must consider such action in the light of all relevant treaty obligations and its duty to contribute to the international nuclear disarmament process.
"France and Britain are now at a crossroads. Going down one road would show their conviction that nuclear weapons are not necessary for their security. Going down the other would demonstrate to all states a belief that these weapons continue to be indispensable."
After tea we reconvened with invited Westminster MPs to discuss developments at AWE and how best to challenge the need for continuing deployment of Trident and the prospect of a new generation of warheads being built at AWE. Decision-making was considered to be in the hands of the Prime Minister and that parliamentarians had very little influence. It was agreed that we need a co-ordinated campaign between a wide range of groups if the general public is to be made aware of disarmament imperatives. Our experience on the day did not support the confidence some members showed in expecting the media to get the message across. In view of the lack of political debate, a series of community inquiries was suggested. The main value of the meeting was to share our awareness that all our strength and effort will be needed to win the rational argument for nuclear disarmament, with new strategies to alert the public of the present dangerous route Mr Blair appears to be intent on.
This delegation began a process for Scottish and English nuclear disarmament advocates to gain awareness of each other’s contribution in raising the alarm for an informed public debate on AWE’s plans. There was a general sense of achievement in sharing our work for nuclear disarmament undaunted by the sudden loss of media interest in the delegation, although we will investigate why this happened.
Di McDonald 18th June 2006
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