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Missile Defence

7. Hugh Bayley (City of York): What recent discussions he has had with the Governments of (a) Canada and (b) Denmark about UK policy on strategic missile defence. [120547]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I discussed a number of issues, including missile defence, with my Danish counterpart in Copenhagen on 8 April. I have had no recent discussions on missile defence with my Canadian counterpart.

Hugh Bayley : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern that is being expressed by people in Denmark and around RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire about the environmental consequences of missile defence, especially the medical consequences of phased-array radar, which have been widely reported in the local media in Yorkshire and on the BBC's "Look North"? Can my right hon. Friend tell me what advice he has sought from the National Radiological Protection Board about those risks and what advice he can give to people in North Yorkshire about their nature?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I am aware of the claims to which he refers. We have not seen any evidence that phased-array radar emissions at levels below those considered safe by the relevant scientific and medical authorities can harm the health of human beings or livestock. The claims are apparently based on material emanating from the United States, and we await the results of studies being made there. However, the weight of current scientific and medical evidence does not in any way support those claims.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Secretary of State agree that it makes better sense to have a missile defence system in place in an era in which we are concerned about rogue regimes with potentially small numbers of missiles than it might have done during a cold war confrontation when we were dealing with a superpower with very large numbers of missiles? When he discusses these important issues with our NATO allies, what consideration does he give to the financing of any such project in the future? Is it a question of discussing with them how best to co-operate with our American allies on a project that they will finance, or would we have to make a significant financial contribution—and if so, could we afford to do so?

Mr. Hoon: We have not come to any specific decisions on whether to pursue missile defence for the United Kingdom, but at the Prague summit last November, all our NATO allies clearly demonstrated that we were committed to examining options to address the increasing missile threat. The question of finance has not yet been specifically addressed, and it need not be until there is agreement as to how to go forward in this area.

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We have, however, been able to agree a framework memorandum of understanding with the United States, which sets out the guiding principles governing co-operation between the United States and the United Kingdom on missile defence. Obviously, one of the aspects that we have to consider further is the cost, and who should meet that cost.

Machrihanish RAF Base

8. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute): If he will make a statement on his Department's plans for the former RAF base at Machrihanish. [120548]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The base is being retained on a care and maintenance basis, pending a review of possible military requirements for the site.

Mr. Alan Reid : I thank the Minister for that answer and congratulate him on his appointment. May I draw to his attention the fact that, if the plans to cease to support military training at Machrihanish in September go ahead, high-quality training facilities will be lost? As Kintyre is a remote peninsula with high unemployment, it would be very difficult for the civilian workers who would be made redundant to find alternative employment. In view of these factors, will the Minister reconsider the penny-pinching decision to stop the training at Machrihanish? Will he, for example, discuss with the local enterprise company the possibility of putting together a financial package to save the training facilities? I noticed the Minister's willingness to meet people from Shoeburyness; may I invite him to make the trip to Machrihanish to see for himself the excellent facilities there?

Mr. Caplin: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcoming remarks. He will be aware that the Ministry of Defence is continuing to work closely with the local authority and the local enterprise company to develop the capacity that might become surplus to requirements at Machrihanish, including any land or buildings, for alternative uses. The site was originally declared surplus to military requirements and transferred to Defence Estates for disposal on 1 April 2000, but a decision on whether the site is surplus to future requirements remains some way off; it is too early to say.


9. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): If he will make a statement on the contribution which the armed services based in the south-west of England (a) made and (b) continue to make to coalition operations in Iraq. [120549]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to the good work that was and continues to be done in Iraq by armed forces personnel based in the south-west of England, and by all our servicemen and women.

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From Plymouth, HMS Ocean, with supporting vessels from the amphibious task group, was instrumental in supporting the crucial early landing of 3 Commando Brigade on the al-Faw peninsula. In addition, Royal Marine commandos were involved in securing the port of Umm Qasr, through which all subsequent seaborne aid has been channelled. HMS Chatham remains in the Gulf. Other units based in the south-west of England also played an important role in Iraq, including Royal Marines from Taunton, and Royal Naval air squadrons from Culdrose and Yeovilton.

Linda Gilroy : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He describes a number of roles of which the service personnel and their families can rightly be proud. In respect of those families, he might recollect that, during questions on the statement to the House on Iraq on 21 March, I raised a question about media intrusion at the time of the first casualties arising from the conflict.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has had time to note that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport published its report last week on its investigation into privacy and media intrusion. The recommendation at paragraph 72 says:

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he plays his part in ensuring that that recommendation is fully followed through?

Mr. Ingram: I do indeed recollect my hon. Friend raising that particular matter. A number of servicemen connected to the south-west lost their lives or were injured while deployed on operations in Iraq. Our thoughts remain with them and their families. Sadly, there were too many examples of the press stepping over lines of common decency, or failing to respect the feelings of those who had just lost loved ones. I have read the recommendations in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee report published last Monday. That is an interesting comment. It is also interesting that Christopher Meyer, the new chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, has indicated that that is the type of case that he would be open to dealing with. If anything can be done to ensure that the press act responsibly at all times when they deal with victims and those who may lose their lives in conflict, I think we will all applaud it.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): No mention of the disproportionate part played by the armed forces in the south-west would be complete without acknowledging yet again the professionalism and dedication of the staff at commando training camp Lympstone. Equally important is an acknowledgment of the very important part played by the Royal Marines Reserve, 150 of whom were deployed recently in Iraq. However, there seems to be some discrepancy among public sector employers in releasing royal marine reservists for their annual

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training, which is critical if they are to play their part fully as we call on them to do from time to time. As part of his review following recent events in Iraq, will the Minister look carefully at how we can convince public sector employers throughout the country to approach the release of Royal Marine Reservists in the same way, without discriminating against some of them, which unfortunately has been the case in the past?

Mr. Ingram: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. I was not aware of the specifics, but in the recent debate on personnel matters we dealt with the impact on individual reservists and those in the Territorial Army, and the relationship with their employers, and I stressed the importance of ensuring that employers are fully aware of the role that reservists play and engage with it. It is in their interests as well as in the national interest that those actions are taken. I will ensure that those sentiments are expressed to them. If there are any particular problems, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman brought them to my attention and that of my hon. Friends. We will do what we can to ensure that that is fully complied with. I echo his sentiments about the crucial role played by training encampments and the Royal Marine Reserves.

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