Previous SectionIndexHome Page

15 Jan 2003 : Column 708—continued

Mr. Hoon: Not for the first time recently, I would urge the hon. Gentleman to look carefully at what I have said and to reflect on whether he is suggesting that in any way I have not been candid with the House.

On timing, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to look at the relevant White House website, which will indicate precisely when the President took the decision on the development of missile defence for the United States. He will see that that decision was taken towards the end of last year and that the request to the United Kingdom followed shortly after. I would be perfectly content with any criticism that might be made from the United States if in any way the hon. Gentleman could verify it, but he is wrong to try to interpret that. There is no such criticism; the United States recognises the contribution that the United Kingdom is prepared to make, and I understand that it is extremely appreciative of the decision-making process in which the United Kingdom has engaged.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): If the technology works, why should it not be given to India and Pakistan?

Mr. Hoon: What is interesting about my hon. Friend's question is that, if the technology can be made to work, the United States has indicated that, in quite a short timeframe, it would be willing to go beyond simply protecting United States territory and consider making such a system available to NATO allies. I see no reason

15 Jan 2003 : Column 709

in principle why, if such a system can be made to work, it should not be extended further, but that is obviously a matter for the United States.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I welcome the spirit of the Secretary of State's announcement this afternoon because it could have important benefits for the security of the United Kingdom and, indeed, for that of our NATO allies. In considering the whole issue, is it not important to recall that, throughout the cold war, the old Soviet Union maintained a BMD system of sorts—the ABM-1 Galosh system, which ringed Moscow—and that, even today under the new partly democratic Russia, elements of that system still remain in place? If it is all right for the Russians to have such technology in some form, should not we be thinking about it too?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely accurate and well-informed observation, with which I entirely agree.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that this is an act of proliferation, that star wars technology, when eventually developed, can have an offensive capacity as well as a defensive one, that it will spur Russia and China to have serviceable nuclear weapons and that it will be another blow to arms control treaties? If, as the Prime Minister has said, the Government are passionately for non-proliferation, why were arms control treaties not even on his listen-back agenda for the United States that he announced last week?

Mr. Hoon: I have debated such issues before with my hon. Friend. I entirely accept his sincerity, but, if he will forgive me for saying so, given that he has long and understandably argued against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which he has done in a very principled way, I do not understand why he regards the development of a defensive system as strategically threatening, particularly when Russia is cutting its deployable offensive systems as a result of agreements made with the United States.

If a missile defence system can be developed, it will not only act as a very clear deterrent to the development of long-range ballistic missiles, but, of course, encourage those countries—for example, North Korea—that could spend their hard-earned foreign currency much better on feeding their own people to do so. My hon. Friend could well apply the logic that he properly applies to such issues but reach an entirely different conclusion: that the development of missile defence systems was encouraging a reduction in proliferation.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The Secretary of State will be aware that there are several key United States bases in East Anglia and that they contribute a vast amount to the local economy. The overwhelming majority of people in East Anglia will welcome this strategic move as a good way to cement the special relationship. In his statement, he mentioned a new technical memorandum of understanding. Surely

15 Jan 2003 : Column 710

British businesses want not just an MOU, but firm assurances that they will be able to bid for some of those key contracts.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations. As I said earlier, such decisions are ultimately about ensuring national security, which includes East Anglia and other parts of the United Kingdom. Part of our approach is certainly to give opportunities to British industry, and there have already been discussions about the potential involvement of leading companies in the United Kingdom in missile defence. Obviously, we shall now wish to pursue that in the light of the decision that I have taken and the proposal that I have made to the House.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): Does my right hon. Friend agree that China's rational response to the development of missile defence would be to increase the number of its missiles and warheads—possibly including dummy missiles—to get through an American missile defence system? If that is China's rational response—I believe that it will be—does my right hon. Friend accept that that could have a serious knock-on effect on other regional neighbours such as India and Pakistan, and on into the middle east? Does he also accept that that is why these systems are potentially so destabilising for the whole world?

Mr. Hoon: As my hon. Friend will be aware from his time in the Foreign Office, China has had an extensive programme for developing ballistic missile defence systems for many years. Given that US proposals for missile defence have never been designed to deal with multiple missiles addressing a particular target, and that they are solely designed to deal with individual missiles from states of concern—which do not include China, as my hon. Friend will be aware—I do not believe that China would need to respond in any way to this proposal. Indeed, China has reacted in a very calm way to the United States' announcement, towards the end of last year, of its intention to develop missile defence systems.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): The Secretary of State will be aware that, outside the ranks of the Conservative party, there is very little support for our involvement in George W. Bush's national missile defence programme. That is partly because there are technical doubts as to whether the system will actually work, and partly because, although the Secretary of State may not deem this to be proliferation, some nation states, notably China, certainly do, privately, deem it to be proliferation and, as has been said earlier, may well step up their response, which would destabilise things internationally. It is also because the real and present threat to the people of Britain is not a long-range missile from North Korea, but the kind of terrorism that we saw so tragically on 9/11, and the kind of terrorism that was identified last night. The question that many people outside the ranks of the Conservative party will be asking is whether, when George Bush says XJump!", our only response is to be XHow high?"

Mr. Hoon: I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend. I have spent years travelling the country, visiting

15 Jan 2003 : Column 711

not only Labour party organisations up and down the United Kingdom but other groups as well, and it has not been my experience that there is very little support for the proposals. Indeed, my experience is that, when the threat is discussed, there is a completely different response: people want to know what we propose to do about it. My hon. Friend needs to look a little more carefully at North Korea. I would not place any confidence in decisions being taken there, not least because, if it goes ahead and abandons its commitment not to test-fly longer range missiles, the United Kingdom would come within range of a missile from that country. I think that my hon. Friend's constituents would want to know, as would mine, what action the Government were taking to deal with such a threat.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Given that national missile defence was originally aimed at protecting the United States, are there no plans for facilities similar to Fylingdales to be established elsewhere in Europe, so that both the United Kingdom and an enlarged Europe can be protected?

Mr. Hoon: As I said in my statement, the United States made a parallel request to Denmark in relation to a radar facility in Greenland. As the US President has said, part of the process that the United States is undertaking involves the need to ensure that any deployable system would, as it is developed, protect not only the United States but its NATO allies.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): May I urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider his interim decision? I acknowledge his duty to protect the citizens of the United Kingdom and that the system is a defensive system. Nevertheless, I believe that it will unwittingly add to proliferation. In his further assessment, will he look at the role of the military industrial complex and decide whether it is the real driver in this matter? May I also refer him to the then President Eisenhower's statement of 40 years ago, which highlighted the dangers of the military industrial complex being involved in just this kind of programme?

Next Section

IndexHome Page