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Mr. Cook: On the anti-ballistic missile treaty, we have constantly stressed to the United States Administration the importance of taking forward any amendment that they wish to make to their agreements with Russia by agreement and through dialogue.
My right hon. Friend is right that members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs take their duties seriously and consider carefully the impact of their words. I wish that Conservative Front-Bench Members considered as carefully as the Conservative members of the Committee the impact on the rest of the world of the comments that they make for party reasons.
No matter how the Foreign Secretary describes the matter, there was a substantial difference in emphasis between what the Prime Minister told the House and the official spokesman's comments to journalists within an hour of Prime Minister's questions. It is highly unsatisfactory to reveal a change of emphasis in policy in that way; there is no getting away from that.
Should not we be anxious about the absence from President Bush's proposals of any understanding of their impact on other treaties and agreements on the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons? What store can we set by consultation that takes place after rather than before a decision has been made?
Mr. Cook: I say to my right hon. and learned Friend--[Interruption.] I extend the hand of friendship to my right hon. and learned Friend. [Interruption.] I assure Conservative Members that I shall not describe them in the same way.
Mr. Cook: There is no doubt that the United States Administration have made a commitment to proceed with missile defence. However, a range of decisions remain to be taken, and it is important to consult on them. I am confident that all our colleagues in Europe will give the same advice: it is important to proceed through dialogue and agreement, not only with us but with Russia.
I am glad that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) gives me the chance to put the record straight about what was said at 4 pm yesterday. [Interruption.] As Conservative Members are so interested in that, I shall describe the Prime Minister's official spokesman's words in full. His statement and what was said in the House are identical. When it was put to him that we would ultimately go along with whatever the United Stated asked us to do, he disagreed, said that nothing was inevitable and that
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): It is clear that the Government want to be cautious about this matter before polling day, as they know that there is widespread opposition to it world wide because of the fear of a new arms race, which could involve this country. The United States supplies us with nuclear weapons, which we pretend are independent. Those weapons are dependent upon the American satellite system and, therefore, on the basis of past experience, British Governments do not go against the decisions of the President. Did the Foreign Secretary hear that Admiral Eugene Carroll--a distinguished retired American admiral--came to the House recently and said that if the scheme went ahead, he hoped that there would be a lot of Greenham commons and a large-scale peace movement? My right hon. Friend, as a passionate and articulate supporter of CND, will understand the importance of such a campaign.
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. I can assure him that the Government will be cautious, responsible and realistic throughout the whole period after we are re-elected on polling day. That is precisely why we are taking a measured and considered approach to the question, totally unlike the Conservative party. However, I say to my right hon. Friend that we are the closest ally and one of the oldest friends of the United States. Plainly, that will be reflected in any judgment that we make if we are asked to be helpful.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the early warning radar station at RAF Fylingdales in my constituency has played a crucial role in maintaining peace and security in Britain and the west for more than 40 years? Is he aware that the majority in north Yorkshire overwhelmingly support RAF Fylingdales? However, some of my constituents are alarmed at the more sensational suggestions as to what ballistic missile defence might mean for RAF Fylingdales. Will he take this opportunity to confirm that although no definitive proposals have been put to the Government by America, the clear intention is that the role of Fylingdales will remain limited to early warning radar stations and that there is no question of siting missiles or interceptors in north Yorkshire?
Mr. Cook: At no stage has anybody involved in the debate--either in the United States or Europe--suggested that interceptor missiles be based either in Britain or anywhere in continental Europe. The hon. Gentleman is right; no precise proposal has been put to us and no
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): I welcome the stress that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have put on the need to insist on dialogue between the United States Administration, the Government, our other allies and Russia before the proposals are confirmed. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the current framework of arms control treaties has played an important part in the security of the United Kingdom and will continue to do so? Are there not much easier ways of dealing with the suggested missile threat from supposed states of concern, rather than the current proposals? In particular, the steps taken by the EU to improve dialogue with North Korea are an obvious way of dealing with that missile threat. Finally, given the extreme concern shown by a large number of people across the UK about the proposals and their possible effect on UK security, will he join me in condemning the levity of Conservative Members? Obviously they are thinking only of party political issues and not the security of this country.
Mr. Cook: Mr. Speaker has already reminded the House that we are discussing this question because the official Opposition tabled it. As they went to the lengths of tabling it, I would have expected them to have made a serious contribution on a serious global issue, not simply to have tried to exploit for party prejudice and party interest an issue that should and will be dealt with in the national interest by the Government.
My hon. Friend is right that there are other ways in which to handle the threat of missile proliferation, although I do not know that it is necessary for us to choose between them. They all have a contribution to make. Whether or not missile defence goes ahead, I agree that it is important that we do what we can for rapprochement on the Korean peninsula and it is important that we tighten the technology regimes against the spread of missile technology. I assure her that we shall continue that work and that, as I said at my meeting with Colin Powell in March, we shall ensure that we work closely with the United States to achieve those goals as well.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): We must clarify whether there is any difference of view between the Prime Minister's press spokesman and the Prime Minister himself. I have here an extract from the lobby briefing, which says: