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Missile Defence

7. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on the likely timing of a request to use UK facilities in respect of national missile defence. [31898]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I regularly discuss missile defence with my United States counterpart. The US Administration have not yet decided what type of missile defence system they will seek to deploy, or when. We have received no request from the US for the use of sites in the United Kingdom for missile defence purposes, nor any indication of when any such request might be made.

Mr. Chaytor: Does my right hon. Friend think that the decision to abrogate the ABM treaty is likely to increase

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or decrease the likelihood of other countries adhering to their international agreements? Does he have any evidence that China has already adjusted its defence policy in response to the national missile defence programme?

Mr. Hoon: There is a proper procedure within the terms of the ABM treaty for either party to withdraw. The United States has invoked that procedure and has therefore remained within the terms of the treaty in that respect. It follows that, by consistently observing the terms of the international treaty, no particular message should be sent to any other country as to its action in respect of existing treaties.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first supplementary question, it would seem that the formal withdrawal or notice of withdrawal from the terms of the treaty should not have any impact on any other international agreement. I have no evidence of any reaction by China to that decision, nor do I consider that there should be any reaction.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Have the discussions that the Secretary of State has had with our American partners extended to improvements to the facilities at Fylingdales? In what circumstances was the extensive new work started without planning permission, and who was responsible?

Mr. Hoon: Given the events of 11 September, I judged it important that there should be an improvement in the level of security at the sensitive facilities at Fylingdales. I regret that the urgency of the work meant that formal planning permission was not sought. That matter has been put in hand and we are in discussion with the appropriate planning authorities. I hope that the House will recognise that in the light of events on 11 September, it was right that we should take urgent action to ensure that there was proper security at the base.

The only circumstances in which that issue has been discussed with the United States is in the context of discussions with US officials based at Fylingdales. There has been contact with them about the need for improvements in security.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Did my right hon. Friend's discussions include consideration of the danger posed for nuclear proliferation by the 60,000 scientists from the former Soviet Union who have expert knowledge of weapons of mass destruction? Is he aware that many of those scientists are being approached by countries such as Iran and Iraq, which wish to develop their own nuclear arsenals?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises a real concern and a real means by which nuclear weapons could proliferate throughout the world. Much concern has been expressed by several countries about the problem. It is something that we shall continue to highlight.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Does the Secretary of State agree with the American President, who said in his state of the union address that missile defences were an

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essential protection against an axis of evil, or does he agree with the 218 Labour Members who signed a motion against missile defence?

Mr. Hoon: We certainly understand why the United States is concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and why the US should wish to take effective action to deal with that. As I indicated to the House earlier, the Government's view is that missile defence may have a significant role to play in the context of preventing and dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): As it would seem that my right hon. Friend's American counterpart cannot give him any direct information on whether there will be a national missile defence system or whether it will work, how can President Bush's promise to defend this country and Europe by means of NMD be brought into play? A sizeable body of scientific opinion and many military strategists believe—unlike the chocolate soldiers sitting on the Conservative Benches—that no such scheme could ever work and that, far from defending this country, it would place us in the front line of terrorist action.

Mr. Hoon: All I can say to my hon. Friend is that there is a significant and very well-funded programme in the United States for developing missile defence. That programme is at an early stage in its development, and I will not make any comments on its technical success at this stage, except to say that I am confident that the United States will deliver the system when it is ready to do so.

Overseas Deployment

8. Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): If he will make a statement on the resources available to meet the commitments of the UK armed forces on active deployment overseas. [31899]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The net additional costs of meeting the UK armed forces' commitments on active deployment overseas are met either from the Ministry of Defence's share of the Government's conflict prevention budget or through a claim on the reserve. The costs of most of these operations are reported to Parliament in the normal way, and we hope to be in a position to announce shortly the total estimated costs this financial year for the operations in Afghanistan.

Mr. Bacon: What is the current total trained strength of the armed forces? Will that increase or decrease this year?

Mr. Ingram: I will provide the hon. Gentleman with the full figure in writing—

Mr. Bacon: That is what I am asking for now.

Mr. Ingram: I appreciate that. I will provide the details in writing, because the figures are very precise and I do not carry those three sets of precise figures in my head. The figure for the Army is more than 100,000, which we hope to raise to 103,000 or 104,000 by 2005. Similar projections are being made for the Navy and for the Royal

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Air Force, based on the type of recruitment and retention programmes that are being put in place, with which I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What are the latest trends in retention?

Mr. Ingram: Upwards.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil): Further to the comments by the Secretary of State over the weekend about UK armed forces being stretched to the limit, will the Minister tell us by when his Department's bid to the Treasury for the next round of the comprehensive spending review will have to be submitted? Will he assure us, in the light of the Secretary of State's comments, that the bid will be for a significant real increase in UK defence resources?

Mr. Ingram: With reference to earlier questions, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is a long time since the Liberals have been in power. I am sure that he will understand that these issues are a matter for negotiation between Departments, and that the allocation of resources has to be made across the whole of the Government's spending profile. Those discussions are proceeding, and when a decision is taken, it will be announced.

Sierra Leone

9. Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): If he will make a statement on troop deployments in Sierra Leone. [31900]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): As reported to the House on 18 December 2001, we are maintaining our current military presence in Sierra Leone of some 360 shore-based personnel over the period of the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 2002. We are making good progress towards our goal of helping to develop professional, accountable and effective Republic of Sierra Leone armed forces, which will be able to protect the security and integrity of Sierra Leone on their own. The international military advisory and training team will continue the task of developing the capacity of the Sierra Leone armed forces over the longer term.

Hugh Robertson: Bearing in mind that answer, what assessment has the Minister made of the likelihood of the Sierra Leone Army regaining control of the diamond mines, which are crucial to the security of Sierra Leone and of the neighbouring countries?

Mr. Ingram: Clearly, we want to ensure that there are perfectly capable Sierra Leone armed forces through presidential and parliamentary elections, which, as I said, are scheduled for May 2002. A sizeable international force of 17,500 troops in UNAMSIL remains in Sierra Leone. Gaining control of the territory in Sierra Leone remains the objective.

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire): Will the Minister acknowledge the important and impressive role that the Chinook fleet, based in Odiham in my constituency, played last year in extraction from Sierra Leone? Does he accept that it is not good for the morale

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of such a fine fighting force to accuse pilots who die in the service of their country of gross negligence when no evidence exists to support that accusation?

Mr. Ingram: I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has changed his position on that. If my memory serves me correctly, he was a Defence Minister who authorised and approved the earlier examination. Perhaps he was not in office at that precise time, but he would have examined all the material that related to the incident to which he refers. As he knows, the other place has provided a detailed and comprehensive report, which we are currently examining. Of course, the Chinook fleet is carrying out an important and extensive role on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

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