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Nuclear Security

3. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): What steps he has taken since 11 September 2001 to secure from air attack sites at which (a) research into and (b) maintenance of nuclear weapons takes place. [83957]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): In the interests of maintaining effective protection, it would be inappropriate to go into too much detail, although I can assure the House that a number of protective measures have been taken. For example, the number of aircraft on immediate stand-by for quick reaction alert—QRA—duties has been doubled from two to four. Also, measures have been taken to enhance our air defence radar detection capability and command-and-control processes, and to provide facilities for QRA aircraft at alternative air stations to increase operational flexibility.

Mr. Rendel : I understand that after 11 September, the French decided to introduce anti-aircraft missiles around at least one of their sites, but have since decided to reverse that policy. Have the British Government considered any such policy, and if so why have they decided against it? Would they reconsider that policy if there were a specific threat to a specific site?

Mr. Ingram: We considered the French's actions and their change of posture at the time, and decided that it was not appropriate for us for a number of reasons, but primarily because once such weapons are deployed, one has to consider when to remove them. We will keep this issue under review at all times, and if a specific threat arose, appropriate action would clearly be taken.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): The Minister has rightly emphasised the seriousness of this situation and the potential threat. Can he tell the House how many sites are concerned with research into nuclear matters, and in how many such sites nuclear weapons are in place? Secondly, is the Minister saying that the air defence system has been activated and is sufficient to deal with an immediate air attack on one or other of the many sites, or that it will be up and running within the next three to six months?

Mr. Ingram: I missed the latter part of that question, but I should point out that a number of such sites exist, according to the different types of priority that could be allocated. However, that could change over time. Although a particular number might exist today, if a specific threat were posed to another site—if we received information that it had been designated for terrorist action—it would be added to that number. However, it is not a numbers game; it is question of the quality of our response at all times. We have put in place very good

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protective measures in terms of the QRA response covering the wider country. Over time, more airfields will be made available—the three other airfields will be modified to be able to take those aircraft so that we can give a quicker response time and aircraft can be moved accordingly.

These are very sensitive and difficult issues to balance because of the nature of the threat. It can be specific but it can also be general, and it can change. Therefore, we must at all times keep all these matters under constant review based on the best intelligence, always remembering that intelligence is never perfect.

Missile Defence

4. Hugh Bayley (City of York): When he last discussed strategic missile defence with his NATO counterparts. [83958]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): NATO Defence Ministers last discussed missile defence formally in June 2002. At the recent NATO summit in Prague on 21 November, NATO Heads of Government agreed to examine options for addressing the increasing missile threat to alliance territory, forces and population centres through an appropriate mix of political and defence efforts.

As I promised the House on 17 October, I have today placed further analytical and discussion material in the Library of the House which I hope will contribute to the debate on the role that active missile defence might play within a comprehensive strategy for tackling the potential threat from ballistic missiles. The paper will also be distributed widely and will be available on the Ministry of Defence website.

Hugh Bayley : Many of my constituents and other people in Yorkshire are concerned about the potential implications of missile defence. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, unlike the Conservatives, who seem willing to embrace missile defence almost without question, the Government will make sure that their discussion document is widely circulated so that they can proceed with a thorough and careful consideration of the arguments for and against in the light of views expressed by members of the public?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations and delighted to give him that assurance on behalf of the Government. As I told the House on 17 October, if there is a United States request for the use for missile defence purposes of Fylingdales or any other United Kingdom facility, we will consider it seriously. The Government would agree to such a request only if the security of the United Kingdom and the alliance would ultimately be enhanced.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): I welcome the document that the Secretary of State has produced today and thank him for the advance notice of it. However, I should like to press him on the principles to which he has just alluded. Can he assure the House that the UK will not participate in any missile defence scheme or allow facilities to be used on UK soil unless it enhances

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the security of the United Kingdom and, moreover, enhances the security of all the alliance, not just specific members of it?

Mr. Hoon: I have said this on a number of occasions, but it bears repetition, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me the opportunity of saying again that the Government would agree to such a request only if the security of the United Kingdom and the alliance would ultimately be enhanced. On the second part of his question, it is important to bear in mind what I said on 17 October. The United States is developing a test bed—the means whereby it can examine the appropriate kind of architecture that might ultimately be required. In those circumstances, it is not possible to give the hon. Gentleman precisely the assurance that he requires because the United States is not yet in a position to do that.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): My right hon. Friend will know from his geography lessons that my constituency is a quarter of a mile from RAF Fylingdales. I wrote to him welcoming his statement on 17 October and also invited him to participate at the earliest possible opportunity in a local public debate with people in Whitby and the Esk valley. In the light of the welcome publication of his document today, could he offer that facility to my constituents so that they can understand what is affecting this important issue? In that way, we can ensure that our part of the world, along with our colleagues in NATO, is included in the debate.

Mr. Hoon: I have had the opportunity of visiting both RAF Fylingdales and my hon. Friend's constituency, and I look forward to the opportunity of doing so again.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): As missile defence is not a priority according to the MOD's previous White Paper, to the present and previous Chiefs of the Defence Staff and to the national intelligence estimates of the US Congress post-11 September, can my right hon. Friend reassure us that the document that has just been made available is not evidence that Government policy is being dictated less by intelligence and British interests than by the ideological obsessions of the Bush Administration, with Opposition Front-Bench Members seeking to be more servilely subservient?

Mr. Hoon: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that Opposition Front-Bench Members are not influencing the nature of the Government's policy in this area. It is none the less important, on the occasions when my hon. Friend and I have the opportunity to debate these matters, that he consider the current evidence rather than some of the historical evidence.

Future Aircraft Carrier

5. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): If he will make a statement on the future aircraft carrier project. [83959]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The future aircraft carrier—carrier vessel future—project is progressing well. The second stage of assessment ended on

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20 November. By the end of January 2003, we plan to announce which, of BAE Systems or Thales Naval Ltd., is our preferred contractor for the programme.

Mr. Chapman : Although I of course congratulate the Government on the biggest shipbuilding programme since world war two, this project in particular has the potential for massive effects for decades to come. In selecting the prime contractor, will my hon. Friend tell me how he plans to weigh various factors, such as the effect on future warship exports, on the United Kingdom supply chain and UK subcontractors and on UK design capability and the extent of UK content and jobs?

Dr. Moonie: I suppose the short answer would be Xvery carefully," but my hon. Friend will want a bit more than that.

Whichever of the contractors is successful, it is clear that throughout its design and manufacture the programme will sustain and create about 10,000 jobs across the United Kingdom. There will be up to 1,000 white-collar engineering design and managerial jobs, about 2,000 to 3,000 blue-collar jobs and a significant number of jobs throughout the supply chain. At the end of the day, the decision will be made on the basis of the track record of the two companies concerned—on how successfully they have performed in the past and are performing during the initial stages of the contract.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier response, but can he give a firm assurance that the Government will be able to write into the contract of the successful contender the insistence that all the yards currently in the bids will be given parts of the work for the two carriers? Can he also assure the House that the three aircraft currently designated to fly off the ships will be in service when the ships are in the water?

Dr. Moonie: We are actually quite a long way from the ships being in the water and I am always a wee bit sceptical when Ministers stand up and make confident predictions, but it would appear from the success on both projects to date that the planes will be ready when the ships are operational.

With regard to the yards bidding, it is difficult at present to say with certainty that everybody will get a share of the work. Obviously a certain amount of competition will be involved in deciding which part goes where. Furthermore, it does not take a genius to work out that if there are only three major sections and four yards are bidding, somebody will lose out at the end of the day. I can say, however, that I believe that all yards in this country that are capable of building those large modules will have a very good chance of securing work on the carriers.

Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): Although it is MOD policy that the design and build of all Royal Navy warships will be carried out in the UK, can my hon.

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Friend reassure the House by guaranteeing that the through-life support, which will last for 50 years, will also be carried out in the UK?

Dr. Moonie: In short, yes.

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