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15 Jan 2003 : Column 702continued
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for organising several excellent meetings in North Yorkshire that produced useful and lively discussions that greatly assisted to clarify my thinking and the Government's decision.
As I hope I have made clear, the system that the United States is developing is evolving. Part of the reason for its request is to ensure the development of a comprehensive system. That will not be in place for several years. However, I have no reason to doubt the determination of the United States to make the system fully comprehensive and effective.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): As the Secretary of State knows, Fylingdales is in my constituency. He also knows that, by and large, I have supported his position. I support his statement, as will most right-thinking people in North Yorkshire, let alone Ryedale.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman to do three things. First, he should take every opportunity to confirm that his comments today mean that we have signed up not to missile defence but to an upgrade of existing radar, which has happened previously. The previous upgrade put millions of pounds into the local economy, and I do not doubt that that will happen again.
Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that many local people will fear that what he has announced today is only phase 1 and that phase 2, involving missile defence, will follow? Will he therefore continue to consult local authorities such as North Yorkshire county council, the North York Moors national park authority and Ryedale council, as well as local people? I urge him to take them with him.
Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, although he has denied the more lurid descriptions of what may have been involved in the decision, the local tourist industry is worried? Apart from Fylingdales,
Mr. Hoon: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his consistent approach. He has not ducked the difficult issues that are necessarily involved. I stress that we are discussing a specific request about the internal functioning of the radar and communications systems at RAF Fylingdales. As I learned when I visited the hon. Gentleman's constituency, local anxiety is sometimes about things that have not been determined and may never be determined. The United States is considering locating phase 2 largely at sea and may never require land-based X-band radars. The phrase, XX-band radar" was used regularly when I dealt with questions in North Yorkshire. It is important to deal with each decision at the stage at which it is presented. There is no need to go further at this stage and speculate as some perhaps less helpful commentators have done. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's observations about the local economy are passed on to the appropriate Department.
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Given the weight of expert criticism of missile defence, the unanimous conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the extent of anxiety in the House, and, according to repeated polls, the opposition of more than 70 per cent. of the British public, will we have an opportunity for a specific debate and democratic vote on the issue in the House?
Mr. Hoon: I have outlined the nature of the debate that the Government propose. There will be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to contribute to it as he has done in the past. However, I do not accept his assertions about the weight of expert criticism. Even if it were overwhelming, my hon. Friend and other critics have to face the central point of my statement's conclusion. If a missile is in the air and targeted at the United Kingdom, threatening catastrophic consequences to the people of this country, does he seriously claim that we should not use every effort to try to protect them?
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Would it not have been better for the Secretary of State to state clearly that, if the United States believes the system to be essential to its security and requests United Kingdom assistance, it would be politically almost inconceivable to deny the request given the importance of our relations? That would be more convincing than relying on the thin arguments in the consultation document and the serious doubts about the efficacy of the technology, especially the identification of decoy missiles, to which the document specifically refers. Can we be absolutely certain that subsequent developments, including any that involve Menwith Hill in my constituency, will be subject to a separate consultation and decision-making process?
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I have received hundreds if not thousands of letters, including some from constituents of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). They all oppose national missile defence and upgrading Fylingdales. I do not think that those people are stupid or misguided. They point out that they believe that it will make them more of a target, and that far from protecting them it endangers them even more. They have a right to express that opinion. I agree with them. It is absolutely dreadful that once again we are acquiescing to President Bush's requests, in opposition to the people who elected us. The last opinion polls showed that more than 70 per cent. of the people of this country were opposed. The consultation has been a sham. I repeat the request of the shadow Secretary of State that we should have a debate purely on the implications of our going down this very dangerous path.
Mr. Hoon: I dealt in my statement with the suggestion, which I recognise is made by those opposed to the proposals, that somehow certain parts of the country might become more of a target as a result of this decision. I dealt with those arguments. I do not believe that there is an enhanced specific threat to Fylingdales or the immediate area, or for that matter to North Yorkshire.
Equally, my hon. Friend must think through the implications of such concerns. There are, rightly, defence bases around the country. The armed forces are located in different parts of the United Kingdom. It is important that we recognise that the decisions that the Government take in relation to matters of this kind are in the interests of the country as a whole and of our national security, and it is right that each part of the country plays its part in contributing to that national security.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): The Secretary of State has this absolutely right. I am sure he will agree that this is not the most difficult decision he will have to make this year. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) that it is inconceivable that we would have said no to the United States.
However, I think the need for British decisions is perhaps slightly closer than the right hon. Gentleman is letting on. The United States has made a great deal of progressmuch faster progress than was originally envisagedwith its test programme. While it may not have decided what systems to deploy, I think it has taken a decision to deploy. At boost phase, missile defence benefits the whole world, because at that stage nobody knows exactly where the missile is going. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but I think that that is probably so. But if we are to defend against missiles in re-entry
Mr. Hoon: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have, in the words of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, been entirely candid with the House. We have not received any further requests from the United States. We recognise that there is a range of options that the United States is looking at. That is precisely the purpose of the test bed that the United States is establishing. I entirely accept from the hon. Gentleman that the United States has made remarkable scientific progress in the work that it has concluded so far, but in many respects that has led it away from a decision to site X-band radar on land. It has given it a range of options that will allow a system to evolve and develop that may not require any further basing in the United Kingdom. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that as and when any such decisions are required in the United Kingdom the House will be the first to hear of them.