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6.53 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): This is a significant day for Parliament. There is no denying that deciding to build a new generation of submarines to maintain our nuclear deterrent is a big decision, costing billions of pounds, having implications over several decades and committing us to continue as the guardians of a weapon of terrible destructive power, with all the responsibility that that brings. This is a decision that Governments have faced periodically over the years. The difference today is that Parliament has the chance to debate it and vote on it at an earlier stage in the process than ever before, and I hope that it is better informed than ever before.

Just over three months ago, we published a White Paper that set out our plans, and I am grateful to the Chairman of the Defence Committee and to his Committee for their generous remarks about the White Paper. In fact, even those who disagree with it, including the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), agree that it is clear, informative and a good basis for debate. It is a debate that my colleagues and I have taken forward in speeches, public discussions, televised appearances and appearances before parliamentary Committees—to name but some of the engagements—culminating in the wide-ranging and impressive debate that we have had today.

Almost every contribution to today’s debate has been characterised by some degree of respect for opposing views—with the exception of two discordant notes. The first was the speech by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who I must say is a skilled debater, but his sense of moral righteousness and certainty was not matched by the quality of his argument.

Mr. Salmond rose—

14 Mar 2007 : Column 396

Des Browne: The second discordant note—I say this with some diffidence—came from the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) and for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), which were unworthy of them and were based on constant assertions of dishonesty, which they simply could not make stand up. On the question of legal advice—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I hope that the Secretary of State is not associating dishonesty with any hon. Member. I do not like interrupting him, but I would not like him to associate any hon. Member with dishonesty in this House.

Des Browne: Not dishonesty, but constant assertions of misleading, which could not be made to stand up.

Mr. Speaker: “Inadvertently misleading” would be better. We try to work our way around words here, so inadvertently misleading is better, but I think it would be best if the Secretary of State moved on from this difficult territory.

Des Browne: I am grateful for the support of my right hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George), for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) and of my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson)— [Interruption.]

Mr. Salmond rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Salmond must sit down.

Des Browne: I am also grateful for the support, among others, of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key). I welcome the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), and, indeed, of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). The nature of their contributions gives the lie to the accusation that we have sometimes heard—that Members have not had the time or been given the information to form their views and engage in a full and proper debate. I believe that we have seen that debate today.

From what I have seen and heard today and over the last three months, it is clear that opposition to the plans set out in the White Paper falls into three broad camps. First, there are those who believe that nuclear weapons are inherently wrong. Secondly, there are those who do not believe that they are inherently wrong, but believe that there is no longer any need for them because the world has changed. Thirdly, there are those who, regardless of what they think about the morality or the strategic case, think that we do not need to take the decision now.

Let me start with the last. For some, the argument that we do not need to decide today is based on technical concerns such as whether the current submarines must go out of service when we say, or
14 Mar 2007 : Column 397
whether it really takes 17 years to build new ones. In the limited time available to me today, it would be pointless to try to set out the full range of reasons why I believe that those assertions are wrong; they are in the White Paper, and can be found in the evidence given to the Select Committee. I can only say that I am confident, and the Navy is confident, that they are wrong.

I can also say that back in December when the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) told me that he had received different advice, I said that I would like to see it. Indeed, I was anxious to see it, because if we really were wrong I would have welcomed it. However, I have not heard back. Nor have I heard anything else over the last three months that goes beyond mere assertion, or false comparisons with other types of submarines or previous procurement processes. I have heard nothing to alter my belief that trying to extend the current boats any further, or to squeeze the build time any shorter, would be taking an unacceptable risk.

I must also say that I believe it to be fundamentally wrong to hide behind such an argument about timing if what really motivates someone is opposition to the decision itself. It is an abdication of our responsibility as democratic representatives charged with the job of facing these decisions with clarity and honesty. I am not suggesting that all the reservations that we have heard about timing are disingenuous. Some Members have registered a more serious and genuine concern. I am thinking of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and supported, among others, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). They have made it clear that they accept the Government’s case and that we need to take a decision now, but argue that we should see it as a provisional or conditional decision, and make it clear that we intend to revisit it further down the line.

Our position was set out earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he said, “It is absolutely right that this Parliament cannot bind the decisions of a future Parliament and it is always open to us to come back and look at these issues...when we get to the gateway stage—between 2012 and 2014—when we let the main will always be open to Parliament to take a decision.” This happened when the previous generation of submarines was built, and it would be surprising if it did not happen again. However, the precise details of how future Parliaments should approach this issue is something that they must decide.

As the Prime Minister went on to say, the fundamental point is that we need to take a decision now to start the process, and we have deliberately chosen to bring this decision to Parliament at the right time at the start rather than proceeding in secret and then presenting it later as a foregone conclusion. The hon. Member for North Devon is absolutely right when he says that we are asking the House not just to keep our options open but to take the big decision—the decision in principle.

Let me turn briefly to the second camp, who believe that there is no longer any need for nuclear weapons because the world has changed. The world has
14 Mar 2007 : Column 398
changed, but a proper understanding of that change suggests that, although right now there is no nuclear threat and no country with both the capability and the intent to threaten us, which is why we have de-targeted our missiles, we cannot rule out the possibility that the threat will re-emerge. Indeed, recent events reinforce our view that this is not just a mere possibility but a very real risk. We should remember that other countries’ intentions can change faster than we could possibly rebuild our deterrent if we allowed it to lapse.

Finally, I come to the first camp, whose objections are essentially moral. I will not say much about this other than to echo what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in opening the debate. We in this country and in the Government can be proud of our moral record on disarmament. We remain absolutely committed to it and we believe that it is completely compatible with the decision that we are asking Parliament to approve today. I know that that will not have persuaded everyone. The view that maintaining our nuclear deterrent is morally wrong, or morally or practically incompatible with working towards disarmament, is a position I respect, but one that I profoundly disagree with.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge again the support of the official Opposition. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks asked several detailed questions about costs and other matters, and he also said that they were questions for the future. I hope that he will be satisfied if I say that I will write to him. Given the limited time I had today, I wanted to spend it on the key arguments and factors in the decision that the House is about to make.

I should not finish, however, without also acknowledging the contribution of the hon. Member for North Devon. I do not think that he actually finished his speech, given that he covered only two of the five points that he promised. I was particularly disappointed not to hear, finally, an explanation of why the Liberal Democrats settled on 100 as the right number of warheads—other than, of course, the fact that it is a round number. However, I think that I can summarise what he said. His party now accepts that the Government are entirely right to make the decision and right to make it now, but that there was no need to tell anyone about it. Instead, we should just have carried on in secret without any public scrutiny and only come to Parliament some years down the line—

It being six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [13 March].

The House divided: Ayes 167, Noes 413.
Division No. 77]
[7.3 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Alexander, Danny
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Austin, John
Baker, Norman
Barrett, John
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Breed, Mr. Colin
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Lorely
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Caton, Mr. Martin
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clegg, Mr. Nick
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Doran, Mr. Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Fisher, Mark
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Mr. Don
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Galloway, Mr. George
George, Andrew
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goldsworthy, Julia
Griffith, Nia
Grogan, Mr. John
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Mr. Dai
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hermon, Lady
Heyes, David
Hoey, Kate
Holmes, Paul
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunter, Mark
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jones, Lynne
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Kramer, Susan
Laws, Mr. David
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leech, Mr. John
Lepper, David
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Marshall, Mr. David
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
McCafferty, Chris
McDonnell, John
McGrady, Mr. Eddie
McKechin, Ann
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moore, Mr. Michael
Morgan, Julie
Mudie, Mr. George
Mulholland, Greg
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Sandra
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Price, Adam
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, Angus
Rowen, Paul
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob
Salmond, Mr. Alex
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Short, rh Clare
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Sir Robert
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swinson, Jo
Taylor, Matthew
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Joan
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark

Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winnick, Mr. David
Wishart, Pete
Wood, Mike
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Dan Rogerson and
David Taylor

Afriyie, Adam
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Amess, Mr. David
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Baldry, Tony
Balls, Ed
Barker, Gregory
Barlow, Ms Celia
Baron, Mr. John
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beckett, rh Margaret
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benn, rh Hilary
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Betts, Mr. Clive
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blair, rh Mr. Tony
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brennan, Kevin
Brokenshire, James
Brown, rh Mr. Gordon
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Browning, Angela
Bryant, Chris
Burnham, Andy
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Alistair
Butler, Ms Dawn
Butterfill, Sir John
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, Yvette
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M.
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Dowd, Jim
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Engel, Natascha
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Fox, Dr. Liam

Francis, Dr. Hywel
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Griffiths, Nigel
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Mr. Tom
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Healey, John
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Herbert, Nick
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Horam, Mr. John
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. David
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Kawczynski, Daniel
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Key, Robert
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lammy, Mr. David
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Linton, Martin
Loughton, Tim
Lucas, Ian
Luff, Peter
MacDougall, Mr. John
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Main, Anne
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Maples, Mr. John
Marris, Rob
Martlew, Mr. Eric
Mates, rh Mr. Michael
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McCrea, Dr. William
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIntosh, Miss Anne

McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Rosemary
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Mercer, Patrick
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, Edward
Miller, Andrew
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mountford, Kali
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Owen, Albert
Paice, Mr. James
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pearson, Ian
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Prentice, Bridget
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Purnell, James
Rammell, Bill
Randall, Mr. John
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, John
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Robinson, Mr. Peter
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Rosindell, Andrew
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Christine
Ryan, Joan
Salter, Martin
Scott, Mr. Lee
Seabeck, Alison
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Sheridan, Jim
Simmonds, Mark
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, David
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tami, Mark
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ms Dari
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Ussher, Kitty
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Vaz, rh Keith
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waltho, Lynda
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wicks, Malcolm
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Wills, Mr. Michael
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David

Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Jeremy
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:

Jonathan Shaw and
Claire Ward
Question accordingly negatived.
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