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17. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): If he will make a statement on the future use of the new ranges in Shoeburyness. [24479]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): QinetiQ has a contract with the Ministry of Defence to operate facilities across all the test and evaluation ranges until the end of March 2003. Day-to-day operations at the new ranges in Shoeburyness are being conducted by QinetiQ on the MOD's behalf under this contract, although the site remains MOD-owned. The company is pursuing opportunities for diversification, where appropriate, as part of its commercial strategy.

Separately, the MOD is also conducting a review of its longer-term requirements for trials, testing, training and evaluation, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment until the results of the review are known.

Sir Teddy Taylor: The Minister will be aware of the huge uncertainty of the people of Shoeburyness, and their local Member of Parliament, about the future of a large and exciting site. For example, in the past few months we have been told that QinetiQ, which runs the site, was going to be a PLC company with a private shareholding. However, that has now been abandoned. We were then told that there would be an agricultural project employing 1,000 people. That too has been abandoned. Now we are told that the future of the range as a range is under review.

In view of the importance of this site, is there not a case for the Minister coming to Shoeburyness—he will be very much welcomed there—to tell local people what is going on? The matter is of great significance to Shoeburyness; it is a wonderful site.

Dr. Moonie: I must admire the hon. Gentleman's capacity to wring a great deal out of a single question. Perhaps I could try to answer as much of it as I can in the time allowed me by the Speaker. First, all our ranges are under review because, frankly, we must decide on the most cost-effective way of using them. I am well aware of the uncertainty that this poses for the people employed on our sites. I visited Shoeburyness last year and had the opportunity to see for myself its excellent facilities. However, our overall programme is subject to some

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doubt. We must be sure about how much use of our facilities we can make at each of the sites that we still use. With regard to QinetiQ, I would be thought to have poor commercial judgment if I attempted to float the company on the stock exchange, given the present state of technological stocks.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): I am the Member of Parliament for the constituency opposite Shoeburyness, and the bangs from the ranges cause windows to break and doors to rattle, and they scare dogs, cats and horses.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Rubbish.

Mr. Wyatt: We in north Kent would vote for the ranges to be closed. [Interruption.] We hear noises apart from the guns. My hon. Friend the Minister has kindly asked my constituents to visit Shoeburyness to see the site. Could we ask him instead to come and listen to the noises that cause windows to break and rattle the windows of old people's homes, scaring the hell out of them?

Dr. Moonie: That does not sound like the peaceful and idyllic part of our beautiful country that I thought north Kent was. Perhaps my hon. Friend is hearing the noise that the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) makes in defence of his ranges. We have invited people from my hon. Friend's constituency and from neighbouring constituencies to go and see for themselves what goes on there. We investigate complaints fully. I must say that I find some bemusement at the level of complaint, compared with that from people who live much closer to the area concerned.

National Missile Defence

18. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): What recent discussions he has held with his US counterparts concerning UK involvement in the proposed national missile defence system; and if he will make a statement. [24480]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I discussed missile defence with the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and other NATO colleagues, most recently during the NATO Defence Ministers meetings on 18 December. I expect regular

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discussions on the subject to continue. I have consistently made it clear that we share US concerns about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and that we will continue to work together to tackle the threat with a comprehensive strategy. But it remains the case that the US has not yet decided how it wishes to proceed with missile defence and has made no request for the use of facilities in the UK.

Jeremy Corbyn: My right hon. Friend quite rightly drew attention to the dangers of proliferation of nuclear weapons. Does he accept that national missile defence, if introduced by the United States, would be a serious breach of the test ban treaty process and the nuclear disarmament process? Would it not be better if my right hon. Friend used his good offices to persuade the United States not to go ahead with this incredibly dangerous proliferation, and if he made it clear that no British facility whatever will be available for it?

Mr. Hoon: I do not accept the way in which my hon. Friend puts his question. He will know, as other Members of Parliament do, that the United States continues to observe the terms of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, having given six months' notice of its withdrawal, as either signatory is perfectly entitled to do. I am sure that he would welcome the intention of the United States to reduce the number of operationally deployed warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 as a valuable step forward. That of course is linked to its commitment to missile defence; that important reduction is a direct consequence of the extra security that it anticipates having once missile defence is fully deployed.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The events of11 September showed graphically the lengths to which certain terrorist groups are prepared to go in an attempt to achieve their aims. Given the proliferation of long-range missiles, including among rogue states, does the Secretary of State agree that what happened on 11 September strengthens, not weakens, the case for ballistic missile defence?

Mr. Hoon: Yes. The events of 11 September show that there are those who would seek to threaten the United States and its friends and allies by any means available. That could certainly include ballistic missiles, and we agree with the United States that there must be a comprehensive strategy to tackle all those threats.

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3.31 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Spanish Government's claim to have reached an agreement with Britain to share sovereignty over Gibraltar.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): No agreement has been reached with the Spanish Government, and the Spanish Government have made no such claim. Discussions about Gibraltar's future, including the question of sovereignty, are continuing under the Brussels process established in 1984 by Lady Thatcher. [Interruption.]

Since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Spanish Prime Minister, José Maria Aznar, announced the resumption of the process last spring, we have kept the House informed of developments at every stage. On 20 November, I issued a detailed joint communiqué with the Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Piqué, about the process. We said:

A copy of that statement was placed in the Library. The United Kingdom's objective is a secure, stable and prosperous Gibraltar enjoying greater self-government and the full benefits of normal co-existence with the wider region.

Let me repeat that we stand by the commitments first given in 1969. Any proposals affecting the sovereignty of Gibraltar would be subject to the consent of the people of Gibraltar in a referendum and would require United Kingdom primary legislation.

Mr. Ancram: I am less than reassured by that response, and less than convinced that there is not a deal being done behind closed doors to share sovereignty over Gibraltar with Spain. Is the Foreign Secretary saying that the report in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday that Spanish officials had confirmed that the deal would be struck late this summer is inaccurate, or that Spanish officials had no grounds for saying that? Is he saying that reports in the same paper on the same day, attributed to the Foreign Office, that

are untrue, or that the Foreign Office should not have given that impression?

The whole process in which the Foreign Secretary is engaged is beginning to smell to high heaven, and the smell is of stitch-up and of sell-out. Is it not totally unacceptable to seek to pre-empt proper discussion of this vital issue of sovereignty behind closed doors? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House clearly and unequivocally whether he is discussing shared sovereignty with his Spanish counterpart, Mr. Piqué, and whether such an arrangement would be time-limited, indefinite or with a built-in mechanism to transfer to full sovereignty in due course?

Will the Foreign Secretary explain clearly to the House why joint or shared sovereignty is not surrender of sovereignty and the thin end of the wedge leading to

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eventual abdication of sovereignty over the Rock? Does he not understand the suspicions of many Members of Parliament and of the whole people of Gibraltar that the British Government are being disingenuous in purporting to be holding genuine talks?

It is all very well for the Foreign Secretary to claim, as he has again today, that no change can be made without the consent of the people of Gibraltar expressed in a referendum, but does he not understand that we have all heard of offers being made that cannot be refused? A take-it-or-leave-it done deal on shared sovereignty put to the people of Gibraltar, surrounded by veiled threats of being left behind—to quote the Minister's words—or financially penalised, or harassed or left to sink, would amount to such an offer. That would run contrary to the spirit of the

referred to in the constitutional preamble of 1969. Agreement sought under duress can never be agreement freely or democratically achieved.

What did the Spanish officials mean, if they were correctly reported in the same newspaper, when they said that

Does that not suggest that the Government are considering surrendering sovereignty in principle, and does not that also fly in the face of the constitutional guarantee? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman learn the lesson of his Government's experience in Northern Ireland, when they realised early on that such discussions cannot fruitfully be pursued without giving interested parties a full and separate voice and by ruling out joint sovereignty from the start?

The Foreign Secretary may believe that in pursuing his course he is building bridges with his partners in Europe. He must understand that he cannot do that by selling out the interests and rights of British people. Such a path will only end in tears. Today he has a chance to come clean with the House. Does he not agree that the people of Gibraltar have shown great loyalty to the Crown and to the United Kingdom and that we at least owe them openness and loyalty in return?

If the right hon. Gentleman seeks to bounce the people of Gibraltar, we will oppose him and support them. If he seeks to intimidate the people of Gibraltar or bring duress to bear on them, we will resist him and support them. If he seeks to achieve a done deal or sell out the people of Gibraltar, we will oppose him and support them. Can he today guarantee that the wishes of the people of Gibraltar will be capable of being freely and democratically expressed in the true meaning of those words, because anything less would be despicable and dishonourable and we would support the people of Gibraltar in opposing it?

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