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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 June 2006, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Defence matters
On Sunday 25 June 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Des Browne MP, Secretary for Defence

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Des Browne MP
Des Browne MP, Secretary for Defence

ANDREW MARR: Now, as well as the cry "that's enough Scots running Britain", the cry might also be "that's enough Browns".

Following last month's reshuffle there are now two Scottish Browns in the Cabinet and the new Defence Secretary is Des Browne, just back from Iraq, and he joins me from Edinburgh. Welcome, thank you for joining me this morning Des Browne.

DES BROWNE: Thank you very much indeed Andrew. I just should point out to your that before the reshuffle I was in the Cabinet as well as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but that's a pedantic point.

ANDREW MARR: That's a very well-made and non-pedantic point. I apologise for that. Just tell us about this new Veterans' Day idea, because we, you know, we're familiar with all the traditional ceremonies, why do we need something more?

DES BROWNE: Well it rose out of the veterans' awareness week that was, that took place last year in anticipation of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It was very successful and from that a decision was made that it would be appropriate to set aside some time every year, the 27th June was identified, to honour and celebrate those who served in our Armed Forces because of the contribution that they made - and indeed they continue to make, some of them having left the Armed Forces and our community, feeling awareness of their contribution particularly amongst the young, and hoping that people will identify some of the qualities that they bring to life from the services such as comradeship, bravery and professionalism.

ANDREW MARR: And when we talk about veterans many of us have a picture in our heads of Second World War veterans. But of course there are many more now, not just the Iraq wars, but the Falklands.

DES BROWNE: Well, absolutely, I mean there are of course still, thank goodness, people who indeed served in the First World War although all too few of them are surviving now. But there are people who are more recently veterans of service in the Armed Services, and part of the point of having a special day set aside is to encourage those people to see themselves has having made that service and having qualified for the status of veterans in relation to the Armed Services, to encourage other people, in particular young people, to know and understand that there are people of all ages around them, as adults, who have made that service and have had that experience and can share their stories with them. And also, I think, to say to those people who are younger, you know, that there is support for them continuing as a result of that service in their lives - all too few of them are aware of that.

ANDREW MARR: Your near namesake, the Chancellor, has made it clear that he favours the modernisation replacement of Britain's nuclear weapons. What is your own position on this?

DES BROWNE: Oh my position is entirely consistent with the Chancellor's and indeed with the Prime Minister's and with the manifesto. I mean we all of us Labour MPs were elected on a manifesto commitment.

ANDREW MARR: But this is going a little further than the manifesto.

DES BROWNE: Let me support the retention of our nuclear deterrent but it's been known of course that that is dated in the sense that although it will last for another 20 years, at least, that we will have to make decisions now about whether or not we're going to replace that in the future, or what we're going to do, whether we're going to extend its life. And that involves a significant amount of work.

I mean we need to get down to that work and it's been known the Prime Minister's spoken about it, others have spoken about the need to set a timetable by the end of this year and make some decisions during the course of this year.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of your own backbenchers, Mr. Browne, think this is against the spirit at least of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and also ask the question exactly who in the post-war world are these devastating weapons really going to protect us from?

DES BROWNE: Well let me just make two points in response to that. I mean, one we're fully aware of our international obligations, particularly in relation to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and no government has since we've had a nuclear deterrent, has been more conscious of them and indeed has taken steps, and not just to honour the spirit but, not just to honour the letter but the spirit of that law.

ANDREW MARR: Would that mean for instance fewer warheads on each missile?

DES BROWNE: Well I mean we've already taken steps in relation to the reduction of warheads during the course of our stewardship of this particular deterrent. But let me just answer the second part of your question which I think is the more interesting and challenging part of the question, and that is, you know, whether in the modern world with the risks and threats that exist, whether a nuclear deterrent plays a part in the protection of our country and of our allies.

I mean I've just come back from both Iraq and Afghanistan, you know, and I'm becoming increasingly in this job aware of the nature and the diverse nature of the threats. Not just potentially state threats that exist out there, but non state threats too. And it's the assessment of those risks and threats, it's the assessment of the options and the assessment of the costs that we need to start doing at the moment, so that that can in turn inform ministerial decisions. And then of course we can have an entirely transparent discussion with parliament about these issues, the appropriate decisions being made and collective support for them.

ANDREW MARR: And a clear open honest direct vote in parliament as well?

DES BROWNE: Well I mean we'll come to precisely how we deal with this. What we need to do when we see what the decisions are, what we need to do is we need to marshal the facts, we need to marshal the issues. We need to marshal the arguments and the options.

Then it is the responsibility of government ministers to make decisions. Then those decisions of course can be subject to parliamentary debate. But we need to make decisions of recommendations to put forward to parliament. Whether we will actually need votes in parliament will be determined by the nature of the recommendations that we're making...

ANDREW MARR: Sorry, can I just move on to one final area.

DES BROWNE: Yes, of course you can...

ANDREW MARR: ...which is the amnesty announced in Iraq, all those people who are prepared not to carry on fighting against the government to be allowed out of jail there. That is one heck of a risk.

DES BROWNE: Well of course it is a risk, it's a risk that the Iraqi government are contemplating. Can I just say, however, that people ought to recognise that this is a significant indication of the progress that the government of national unity has made in Iraq, that they're able to start to address these issues. There is no conflict in the world that has been resolved without dealing with the issue of reconciliation.

And reconciliation requires risks whether it was in South Africa or whether it was in Northern Ireland, whether it was in the Balkans, it requires risks. The fact that you say that these politicians, these ministers, many of whom I met last week, are now prepared to come together representing the diverse interests that they do in this country, to say we will deal with this issue of reconciliation, is a massive step forward but there are as you identify, some quite serious risks about this and we will debate them fully I think before they make decisions.

ANDREW MARR: We'll be watching very carefully. Des Browne, thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.

DES BROWNE: Thank you.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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