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That is a view that crosses party lines. Labour-led Barnsley responded by saying:

East Sussex county council, an interesting one to pick, stated:

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne made the point that the support that we have been prepared to give to councils that may have had investments in Icelandic banks has been insufficient. We made the financial experts available to those councils that felt that they might experience short-term pressures. We funded that extra expertise. We are now allowing accounting treatment next year, so there will be no hit on council budgets or on council tax.

Beyond that, surely the best thing for us to do is to continue to press for depositors to recover their funds as fully as possible, rather than writing off those deposits now and looking to a case for capitalisation or some other measure to make good any potential losses. Those are funds, as I said earlier, that are not lost. They may be at risk, and surely taking steps now and concentrating our attention on trying to get those funds back, with local government and the Local Government Association, is the best thing to do.

The hon. Lady was right, and I think I made the point in my remarks, that the recession is creating pressures on local authority budgets and cash flows, but as the chief executive of the Audit Commission said in its recent report,

It was the Conservative leader of the all-party Local Government Association who only this month said:

The funding settlement for local government will help them do just that. The increase in flexibility and freedom allows them to decide how best to spend the funds for their area, and above all, the increase in funding—above inflation next year, as it was last year, and every year since 1997 under a Labour Government—will help them do just that.

Question put and agreed to.


4 Feb 2009 : Column 942



Business without Debate

delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)).

National Health Service

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)).

Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes

Question agreed to.


Planning and Development (Sutton)

6.34 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I present this petition on behalf of many thousands of my constituents and my local authority, the London borough of Sutton. The petition seeks protection for garden land from the rapacious appetite of developers.

Garden land is precious. It gives character to an area, it provides opportunities for leisure, and it is good for local wildlife. Once garden land is developed, it exposes the neighbourhood to greater air pollution from cars, increased risk of opportunistic burglary and a loss of wildlife habitat. The Government have at last announced a review of planning policy that designates garden land as brownfield land—a long overdue review.

The petition of my constituents states:

4 Feb 2009 : Column 943


Northern Rock

6.36 pm

Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) (Lab): This petition is one of many involving Northern Rock shareholders. The issue is almost becoming an omnibus; there have been several such petitions, and I have no doubt that there will be more.

I have not always seen eye to eye with all the Northern Rock shareholders, and I want to make my position plain. They have been very critical of the Government, but I do not accept that they should be. The Government did not ask for the Northern Rock situation, but they had to deal with it.

However, one has to feel sympathy for people who believe that they are going to lose most or all of their savings, and I most certainly do. The directors of Northern Rock, not its shareholders, led to the current situation. The shareholders are worried about how the valuation was done when the company was no longer liquid. They believe that that will lead them to suffer an injustice and unfairness. I have faith in the Government, who have tried to do the right thing by everyone involved in Northern Rock. Nevertheless, I have described the feelings of the petitioners. All they are asking for is fairness and justice, and no one in this place would want to object to that. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Government will take notice of what seems to me to be a heartfelt plea. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your consideration in arranging this spot for me under somewhat unusual circumstances.

The petition states:


4 Feb 2009 : Column 944

United States Missile Defence Shield

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Ms Butler.)

6.38 pm

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I have been struck by a couple of political clichés in the past few days. One was the attempts by the Foreign Secretary and the American Secretary of State to outdo each other in singing the praises of the special relationship, whatever that may mean to each of us. The other was the comments that I read today, made by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who referred to the claim that American intelligence would be withdrawn in certain circumstances in relation to Guantanamo Bay. I mention that because in military terms, American intelligence is sometimes an oxymoron, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, one needs to understand what both clichés imply when considering our role in missile defence.

We are at a point in time when we have a new American President, whom I shall pray in aid in the course of my speech. I urge hon. Members, and certainly the Minister, not to get too excited by President Obama. I would, if I may, refer him to page 309 of “The Audacity of Hope” to show how difficult it can be to appraise American intentions. President Obama is talking about the need to establish a consensus before the kind of precipitate action for which the Bush Administration became a byword is taken. He says:

I find that a rather disparaging comment. I think that it shows disdain, if not contempt, for the United Kingdom—or perhaps he is just being absolutely honest. Nevertheless, it is the framework within which I believe that the new Administration will work.

I have spoken many times about missile defence; let me remind the House of what it is. It is a successor to President Reagan’s strategic defence initiative—star wars, as it was called. It was initially called, very tellingly, national missile defence, until even the Bush Administration realised that that implied that it was an American system for American defence—as in fact it was—and changed it to missile defence, often known by the acronym BMD: ballistic missile defence. The only way in which this could be introduced was by the Bush Administration being able to withdraw from the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, which they did.

The system is a highly sophisticated technological concept by which a missile, or projectile, is fired at a missile at one of several stages in order to take it out in the course of its flight. It has been likened to a bullet hitting a bullet at about 1,600 kph. Over the years I have conversed with people such as Ted Postol, who was the father of the Trident missile system, and Dick Garwin, who started his professional life as a weapons expert on the H-bomb. One would associate both those men, by their own admission, with the right of the political spectrum. They are hardly loony lefties, but they are united, along with many other members of the Federation of American Scientists, in one belief—that this is a wholly impractical system. To my knowledge, it still has not been shown to be a proven way of intercepting offensive missiles.

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The question has often been posited—and nobody has ever been able to reply to it—“What happens if a so-called rogue state holds one of these weapons and sends it into space, and the United States, or whoever, has some means, as the technology currently stands, whereby it could guarantee that it could knock it out, and that state, which is presumably sophisticated enough to do so, incorporates some kind of decoy into its missile? That is, as yet, a completely untested proposition. The tests to date have included decoys of a different sort—homing devices that have enabled rockets to be semi-accurate. I can just see a rogue state putting a homing device into a rocket for us to knock out.

President Obama has, in all fairness, expressed doubts about this. He has said that he wants to

Will it work? Is it affordable? Those are very big questions that need to be answered, certainly in terms of our involvement, for reasons that I will come to in a moment. The truth is that we have fallen blindly in line behind this system with, in their different ways, right-wing Governments in the Czech Republic and Poland because of what is almost a paranoia fostered by what Eisenhower referred to as the military-industrial complex. Huge amounts of money—hundreds of billions of dollars—are invested in the development of this system, and that money comes from names that are familiar to those who have studied the trade in death otherwise known as the arms trade. They will not let go of their vested interest lightly .

There is no question but that there are dangers abroad in the world, but Members will recall the coining of the phrase “the axis of evil”. The No. 1 member of the axis of evil that had to be removed at one stage was Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That removal was predicated upon mythical weapons of mass destruction: many of us did not believe in them then, and we were shown to be right. The focus then moved to North Korea, which was launching missiles all over the place. We were told that North Korea was building up enough fissile material to create a certain number of bombs, and that the matter had to be resolved. There were threats of military action, but it all came down to negotiation. To bring things up to date, we now have someone else to demonise. We demonise Iran because it has a nuclear power programme. Doctor el-Baradei, who nobody believed when he said there were no WMDs in Iraq, has done a commendable job on behalf of the International Atomic Energy Authority in monitoring what is happening in Iran. With its launch of a satellite using its own missile, those who want to have someone to fear find it even easier to demonise it.

As I said, President Obama seems at best equivocal about missile defence. People of some import within Europe, such as President Sarkozy, have dismissed the missile defence project as destabilising. It seems to be Governments of a certain persuasion in parts of the former Soviet Union’s area of influence who have given any sort of support to missile defence.

4 Feb 2009 : Column 946

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend not share my astonishment that former Prime Minister Tony Blair said to President Bush that he could have missile defence in this country? Unlike what happens in Poland and the Czech Republic, there has so far been no substantive debate or vote whatsoever in Parliament on this matter. Does he agree that, at the very least, the matter deserves parliamentary scrutiny because of the implications for an arms build-up, or pressure in Russia for a rearmament programme?

Mr. Kilfoyle: My hon. Friend has pre-empted the kernel of what I am driving towards. If he will be a little patient, I shall come to that issue in some detail. But he is right to indicate that there has been great disquiet in the United Kingdom, and not always from the sources that we might expect. Some of us in this party are painted as taking a particular view on the different manifestations of militarism, but the Select Committee on Defence issued a report in January 2003 commenting on the modernisation of Fylingdales, which I visited at that time to see the new radar that was being installed. The project was going ahead—that was a statement of fact.

The Select Committee noted:

The Committee had real and practical concerns.

Other comments of concern were also made. In November 2007, more than 110 MPs signed early-day motion 65. It was entitled “Parliament and decisions over US missile defence”, and it called upon the Government to arrange a full debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said a moment ago,

In November 2008 more than 50 MPs, including former Ministers, issued a public statement calling for a public debate on US plans to push ahead with the missile defence system using bases in the UK and Europe.

An open debate would have been the key to finding out what was going on. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) asked the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in a parliamentary question:

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