Ross Pepper

Ross Pepper

rosspepper

Ross Pepper was the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Lincoln in May 2015. He is the chair of the Lib Dems locally and is a Parish Councillor for Skellingthorpe. Ross was born and brought up in Lincoln currently works as an optical assistant for a well-known opticians.


An important vote will take place in the House of Commons on the renewal of the nuclear defences of the UK today.

The current Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD), called Trident, is due to go out of service in the late 2020s, and any new system could take up to 13 years to deliver.

Trident was commissioned under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s to replace Polaris which had been the system used since the 1960s.

Trident came into service in the 1990s and is made up of 3 parts; the submarine, the missiles and the nuclear warheads.

The logic of having nuclear capabilities hidden beneath the waves somewhere in the world is to deter a nuclear attack on the UK because, even if the UK’s conventional defences were ruined, the submarine would still be able to retaliate on the aggressor. This is known as mutually assured destruction.

So is replacing Trident a good deal?

The estimated lifetime costs of replacing the system would total around £100 billion. It includes the designing of the new submarines, the building costs (which at 2006-07 prices are estimated at £15-20 billion) and the running costs (estimates suggest this would be 5-6% of the annual defence budget roughly £2-£2.5 billion per year).

Many would say that no matter what the cost, the defence of our country is worth the outlay.

At a time when the government is cutting back its spending, others, including myself, question whether Trident is worth the money?

Could the money be used to provide additional funding to our conventional armed forces, invest in cyber crime prevention, help our wounded soldiers and provide for families who have lost loved ones in conflict? Or perhaps funds could be channelled into the NHS or education or housebuilding. The list is endless.

So what are the alternatives? One option, which the Liberal Democrats presented in 2013, is that in order to save costs, the continuous patrols at sea should end and the number of submarines be reduced from four to three.

If the threat of attack was heightened, the patrols could restart.

Others argue that a land based system would be vastly cheaper as there would be no need for submarines to be built, however a land based system would be more vulnerable to attack and has been widely rejected as an option.

There is the option in which the nuclear weapon could be launched from an aircraft, which is again cheaper than the submarine option.

The other alternative is to not renew at all and leave our nuclear capabilities aside. Some people think this is the approach we should be taking, and becoming a pioneer for nuclear disarmament worldwide.

However, with uncertainty in the Middle East, the rise of Daesh and an antagonistic Russia, many think nuclear weapons are the best form of defence and a unilateral disarmament would leave us vulnerable and diminish the UK’s standing in the world.

With the UK being one of only nine countries in the world holding nuclear weapons, it is certain that our new prime minister’s first major foreign policy decision will not be unilateral disarmament.

However, is it not worth a chance to look at all the alternatives before upgrading Trident on a like-for-like basis?

I would be interested to hear you views on the nuclear deterrent and whether we should renew it or not.

Ross Pepper was the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Lincoln in May 2015. He is the chair of the Lib Dems locally and is a Parish Councillor for Skellingthorpe. Ross was born and brought up in Lincoln currently works as an optical assistant for a well-known opticians.

This weekend sees the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and Lincoln is going to town on marking the event, and rightly so. Being home to one of the four surviving copies of the document sealed at Runnymede by King John is a huge honour for our city.

The document has now become a representation of the start of our modern democracy and empowerment of citizens. Looking back at that document, is it time for a modern Magna Carta?

We must not get distracted from the significance of the anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. Whether we watch the flotilla of kayaks and boats on the Brayford, take part in the Baron’s trail or see Diversity at the Castle, we need to take time out and remember why this document still has significance for us today.

The Magna Carta was sealed by King John essentially as a peace treaty after a long dispute with the church and the barons. It was not successful in preserving the peace for long, as King John disliked the terms once they were imposed and asked for the document to be annulled by the Pope.

This led to an escalation in hostilities and it only ended in John’s death the following year. A second version of Magna Carta was signed by Henry III in 1225.

One of the most well-known clauses from Magna Carta is the right to a trial by jury which is covered in Clauses 39 and 40 of the document which says:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

“To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice. No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”

This part of the Magna Carta is still in law today, although much of the document has been superseded by other legislation such as the Human Rights Act of 1998.

Looking wider than the UK, the Magna Carta has influenced the American Bill of Rights written in 1791. More recently, the principles of Magna Carta can be seen in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights which were penned after the atrocities of the Second World War.

Should we now be looking at revisiting the Magna Carta and have a version for the 21st Century? Possibly “yes” is the answer. With a series of more authoritarian governments over recent years, our rights as citizens have been tested.

Under New Labour there were the anti-terror laws that were seen as being misused and abused by authorities for some trivial things, the idea of ID cards for all citizens, the once planned DNA database, the freedom to protest was restricted and we remember when Walter Wolfgang, an 82 year old Labour member was thrown out of their party conference for heckling.

Now, with the new Conservative government there are already plans for the return of the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’, allowing the security services access to everyone’s online communications even if there is no suspicion of wrong doing.

There is also the likely threat of a reduction in employment rights and the possible scrapping of the Human Rights Act in the next five years. This is coupled with the threat of privatisation of the NHS, a roll back in environmental projects and little give in constitutional reform.

The key factor for a 21st Century Magna Carta should be that the rights of citizens today would be protected and could only be changed with our approval by referendum.

As Kenneth Clarke said in a speech celebrating Magna Carta in October 2011: “All states, even the most democratic, have a natural tendency to accumulate more power than they need, and to impose more restrictions than are strictly and sensibly necessary.” Let’s get power back in the hands of the people.

Ross Pepper was the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Lincoln in May 2015. He is the chair of the Lib Dems locally and is a Parish Councillor for Skellingthorpe. Ross was born and brought up in Lincoln currently works as an optical assistant for a well-known opticians.

No one can fail to remember the Scottish independence referendum last year. The huge turnout of 84.6% dwarfs that of the recent General Election which saw a 66.1% turnout.

There was one significant difference in the electorate for the Scottish referendum in 2014; 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote on the future of their country. Looking ahead to the referendum on our membership, should 16 and 17-year-olds have the right to have their say too?

Looking at the Scottish referendum, the vote for 16 and 17-year-olds was introduced by the Scottish government as a ‘one-off’ vote on the future of Scotland.

The SNP hoped that by lowering the age, they could secure more votes for the Yes to Independence campaign as over two thirds of Scottish teenagers backed independence according to a Lord Ashcroft survey prior to the referendum.

Notably, nearly three quarters of 16 and 17-year-olds who were registered did vote, compared to just over half of all 18 to 24-year-olds (figures from the Electoral Commission).

Whether you agree on whether a vote should take place or not, our vote on our membership of the European Union is very similar in terms of importance to the Scottish referendum.

This is a once-in-a-generation vote which could have profound consequences for our country, and for that reason 16 and 17 year olds should be given the chance to decide alongside the rest of the public.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens have called for the voting age to be lowered for the referendum, but on Monday it was revealed by the Conservative government that they were not prepared to let 16 and 17-year-olds have a say at the referendum.

It was also announced the EU nationals are excluded from the vote, even if they have been living here for decades, whilst Australian and New Zealand nationals would be allowed a vote on the issue.

We also need to have a sensible and grown up discussion about Europe. We do not need the myths that have been pedalled to us for years about Europe or soundbite stories. We need lots of unbiased information provided online, in meetings, in the press and from our politicians on which we can build an informed choice.

On a personal note, I would like to highlight one thing which has probably lead us to this referendum: Britain has always shied away from taking a leading role in Europe.

From shunning the offer to joining as a founder member, to not signing up to the social convention and blocking a treaty on budget rules, Britain has not been at the front, leading Europe in a direction which we might have been happier with. We left that to France and Germany and have increasingly found ourselves at odds with the direction of the EU.

This is by no means an excuse to leave. I recognise the EU is far from perfect and it needs urgent reforms, but we need to be a committed member leading from the front to be able to push the reforms through and persuade others to join to us, not sat on the sidelines isolating yourself from the others.

With such an important vote which will have consequences for the future of the country, whichever way you feel about the EU, it is vital that young people’s voices are heard as their generations will feel the consequences the most.

It is vital that 16 and 17-year-olds are given the vote in this referendum and the Lib Dems will be fighting to make this happen.

Ross Pepper was the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Lincoln in May 2015. He is the chair of the Lib Dems locally and is a Parish Councillor for Skellingthorpe. Ross was born and brought up in Lincoln currently works as an optical assistant for a well-known opticians.

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