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15 Jan 2003 : Column 705—continued

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): If the technology is successfully developed, what are the prospects of extending the missile defence umbrella to the United Kingdom and the rest of NATO?

Mr. Hoon: That is one of the aspects of the United States request that have led me to conclude that this would be in the security interests of the United Kingdom, because, unlike the situation with an earlier version of these proposals, which was specifically entitled national missile defence—Xnational" referring to the United States—President Bush has indicated his concern that missile defence and the programme being developed by the United States should be made available to the United Kingdom and other NATO allies, should that be appropriate, and should those countries decide on it at an appropriate stage. That is a remarkably helpful offer for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that even those of us who doubt the cost-effectiveness and utility of missile defence think that he is right to respond positively to a proper request by an ally? Would he remind the House of, and put a note into the Library explaining, the precise command allocations of responsibility as between the United States and the United Kingdom within the Fylingdales base?

Mr. Hoon: Those are matters that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right to raise. They are still the subject of further detailed negotiations. As regards the upgrade implications, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that I shall not be able to inform the House of all the aspects, but I undertake to ensure that the House is properly informed of the general outline of those arrangements.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the extensive press coverage that

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there has been, particularly in the defence press, about the development of X-band radar. Members of the Defence Committee this week received a document from Yorkshire CND raising concerns that the upgrade of RAF Fylingdales is part of the development programme for X-band. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that it is not?

Mr. Hoon: What I can assure the House is that there has been no specific decision about the deployment of X-band radar. As I have already said, the developments so far in the United States indicate that in fact an X-band radar may not necessarily have to be located on land, and certainly not anywhere in the immediate vicinity of RAF Fylingdales.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The Secretary of State's decision today is a wise and prudent precautionary measure that should have the full support of the House. Would the battle of Britain have been won in 1940 if Dowding had not been allowed to deploy radars around our coast from 1936? In these circumstances, surely vulnerability cannot be the best policy.

Mr. Hoon: Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman makes an appropriate historical analogy. As someone who has looked carefully at the history of that conflict, I think that he is absolutely right to recognise that as our technology develops we must use it to provide greater security for our people.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): I would have liked to give a personal perspective on Fylingdales, but unfortunately my written request to the Secretary of State to visit was refused, unlike that of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), I understand.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his slavish devotion to American policy in this area adds further to global destabilisation? That destabilisation is evidenced by, for example, North Korea's alleged withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty, a treaty that the United States never ratified, following on from its abrogation of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty. It is also reflected in the Chinese military's plan to reconfigure its nuclear forces to overcome missile defence, as and when it is ever developed, and most recently lately by the Indians, who are developing an Agni-3 rocket and are discussing dropping the no-nuclear-first-strike option from their military planning.

In the Government's Gadarene rush to embrace every crackpot notion foisted on us by the ideologues in Washington, I should like the Secretary of State to point out where the independence of thought and the independence of policy are in the British Government, reflecting true British needs.

Mr. Hoon: I am sorry to hear my hon. Friend and former Ministry of Defence colleague make those observations. I am sure that he would have had the opportunity to visit RAF Fylingdales when he was a Defence Minister, had he chosen to take it. Indeed, I do not recall his making those kinds of observations at that time. I accept that his views have changed in the interim, but even allowing for those changes I would ask him to look carefully at, for example, the details of the Moscow

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treaty. The views that he now espouses are the views of people who have long advocated the importance of reducing the numbers of offensive systems available to the then Soviet Union, now to Russia, and to the United States. The Moscow treaty, as a result of the confidence that the United States now has because of the potential developments of missile defence, has seen the most significant reduction of deployable defensive systems in history. That remarkable success is the result of the end of the treaty that he says should continue.

Again, looking at the missile defence situation, I simply do not understand—I am perfectly willing to hear any argument—why a purely defensive system attracts so much criticism. I could certainly understand my hon. Friend setting out criticism of the further development of offensive systems, but hardly of this kind of defensive proposal.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): The Secretary of State should be aware that his statement will be greeted with dismay by many people in Wales, Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom, not least among members of his own party. Given that the United States has refused to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons, will he not concede one fact: that missile defence is a misnomer—if it works, it might indeed be a defence, but it might also provide the very shield that the United States requires to launch the very first use of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Hoon: The United Kingdom has also consistently refused to rule out a no-first-use policy, for understandable and clearly well-established reasons. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to his views and to express them, but, if he is to put them in the context of wider defence policy and thinking, he needs to set out more clearly his objections to what is, as I have just said, a purely defensive system that threatens no one and can ultimately only protect people in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, which are fully functioning democracies.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): As the Government believe that what they have presented as the greatest threat to world peace—Iraq—can be eradicated by conventional military means, from whom do the Government believe that the threat will come that warrants an anti-ballistic missile system? It was not radar that won the battle of Britain, but Spitfires, so it is perfectly clear that radar alone will not act as a defence for this country. Are we considering a situation in which anti-ballistic missiles will be placed in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hoon: I am now at risk of sparking a historical debate, but I accept for the avoidance of doubt that a combination of radar, Spitfires and other aircraft won the battle of Britain.

As for Iraq, I set out very clearly in my statement that we regard the threat from Iraq as the single most significant threat, particularly if Iraq is allowed the opportunity to continue to develop not only its weapons of mass destruction, but its means of delivery. I am somewhat puzzled by my hon. Friend's question because, understandably, for reasons that I well recognise, she has been among the most assiduous

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opponents of any proposal to deal with the threat from Iraq by conventional means. She cannot have it both ways: she cannot argue against conventional means of dealing with Iraq, as well as against the proposal to defend this country and other countries against the threat that Iraq poses. One or other must be a way forward.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Secretary of State and I have different ideas of candour. I do not think that it is particularly candid to come to the House on 17 December and say, XSurprise, surprise—we have just had a formal request from the Americans to upgrade the radars at Fylingdales" and then, eight sitting days later, come to the House and say, XWe are minded to accept it." The fact is that this issue has been around for a very long time.

The Secretary of State's Parliamentary Private Secretary and I visited Washington and attended a briefing at the Pentagon in 1998, when it was made absolutely clear to us that the United States welcomed full British involvement in ballistic missile defence. It would have been much better had we been fully on board as early as possible, not least because the United States would have known in planning, preparing and designing the system that it could have relied on the United Kingdom as a full partner to base in the United Kingdom whatever would be required to make the system a success.

If the Secretary of State continues to insist that he will make decisions as he gets formal requests, he is, frankly, not being candid with the House. It is about time that he made it clear, as he did in making a strong case for the system, that the Government fully support it and are fully committed to it.

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