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A pretty straightforward question, I would have thought. Unfortunately, once again, what we all believed at the time to be a commitment by the then Prime Minister was just smoke and mirrors. He replied:

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Having been probed further by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he went to say:

so we agree on one thing—

I am sorry to say that that opportunity was not given to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. In a written statement issued to Parliament on 25 July 2007, one day before the House rose for the summer recess, the then Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), wrote:

a misnomer, because I think there are only about two or three RAF people at RAF Menwith Hill, and it is wholly American-run, controlled and organised—

There we have it—a Prime Minister promising one thing and a Secretary of State for Defence doing something entirely different without any reference to the House, showing almost total contempt. So much so that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs later stated in its second report on global security and non-proliferation:

note the name change—

Almost as an aside, the report continued:

I fear that the Committee understated the case at that stage.

There was still no explanation of why the promised and heralded debate never eventuated. I hate to pray in aid members of the Liberal Democrat party, but the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) tabled a written question to that end. He asked:

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The responsible Minister gave the same sort of evasive, bland non-answer that we received previously. The then Secretary of State said:

That is an insult to the House’s intelligence. To table that as a substantive reply to a simple question, raising a matter that the former Prime Minister had promised would be discussed on the Floor of the House, is an absolute insult.

Another Liberal Democrat Member, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) asked the Secretary of State for Defence:

That is an important question, and the answer was:

If there is no memorandum of understanding and no consent from the House, who has the wherewithal and the power to take on themselves the task of effectively negotiating a foreign treaty with a foreign military power over a sovereign—at least in theory—British base? I would like to know the answer to that. I hope that the Under-Secretary can provide an answer to that and other questions at some stage, if not today.

I ask the Under-Secretary: on what legal basis does the UK support US missile defence? Do the Government agree with President Obama that missile defence should

and, presumably, the British public?

Have the Government joined NATO in welcoming the announcement by Russia that it was

I believe that the Russians are making a gesture to the new US Administration, and I await with eager anticipation Her Majesty’s Government’s response to it.

Do the Government recognise that the new US Administration offer the UK and the world an opportunity to ease global tension by resiling from many of the aggressive foreign and military policies, including missile defence, of the Bush years, to which we gave knee-jerk obeisance, as an unequal partner in the so-called special relationship?

The Under-Secretary may be glad to know that this is my penultimate question. Do the Government agree with the July 2007 YouGov survey, which showed that 68 per cent. of the British people agreed that UK support for missile defence should be decided by Parliament, while 54 per cent. agreed that siting US missile defence early warning bases in the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic would increase security threats faced by the UK and Europe?

Finally, will the Government allow Parliament to debate and decide whether the UK should continue to participate in the US missile defence programme, as promised by the former Prime Minister, as recommended
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by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and as agreed to by 68 per cent. of the British people in the aforementioned YouGov poll, regardless of whether President Obama decides to proceed with it? I hope that at some stage either the Minister or his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence can give me substantive answers to those questions, rather than dismissive ones.

7 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Quentin Davies): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) on obtaining this Adjournment debate on a matter of considerable interest to many people, as he rightly said. He speaks not only from deep conviction on the subject, but from a long-standing involvement in it. Indeed, I have noticed his early-day motions and the other initiatives that he has taken to draw public attention to the issue.

It often happens on these occasions that the Minister replies to the Member who has secured the debate by reading a written statement. That can sometimes lead to the two individuals speaking past each other, so it might be more helpful in the time that I have to try to focus on the questions that my hon. Friend asked. Before I do so, however, let me say two things briefly. First, there is an illusion, which I wish to lay to rest, that the Government have a plan to deploy interceptors—an anti-ballistic missile system—in this country. We have no such current plans. That is an error in the early-day motion to which I have referred and I hope that I can lay it to rest.

Secondly, let me explain what national missile defence—or international or anti-ballistic missile defence—is about. If my hon. Friend went to Fylingdales, he would see a radar picture on a screen of the upper atmosphere and the surrounding areas of space over quite a large section of the northern hemisphere. He would be able to see all the various objects in that space, including satellites and the launches of commercial satellites, all of which we will have been notified of, which can be tracked through that system. Occasionally he might also see a meteor or something exciting of that kind.

However, if one fine day—well, it would not be a fine day; it would be a day of horror—an unidentified flying object appeared on that screen and the computers calculated from its trajectory that it was heading for us, there would be nothing practical that we could do about it, and that has been true for decades. It would be possible to notify the Vanguard submarine currently on patrol and to notify the Prime Minister, but nothing could be done. We would simply have to sit and wait to see whether that day was the day of Armageddon. Anti-ballistic missile defence provides an alternative to that. It provides the possibility of doing something about that object, which might be a rogue missile from a rogue state or an error—one does not know. That is the difference between having an anti-ballistic missile system and having no such system.

Let me go through the points that my hon. Friend raised. First, he talked about the effectiveness of the
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system and said that it was not proven. The system is not proven in the sense that there is a great deal of technical work to be done on it. He mentioned electronic counter-measures and decoys. Without going into sensitive areas, let me assure him that all those issues are being addressed. [Official Report, 9 February 2009, Vol. 487, c. 10-12MC.] All I can say is that up to now—this information has been in the public domain—there have been quite a number of firings by the Americans of their anti-ballistic missile systems. There have been 47 successes so far, as against 37 failures. The system is certainly making progress, so any assumption that it is technically non-viable would be a rather rash one to make.

My hon. Friend asked whether the information from the radars at Fylingdales to which I have referred and the information from the satellite sensors being downloaded at Menwith Hill is available to our authorities and the Americans at the same time. The answer to that is simply yes.

My hon. Friend raised the attitude of Russia. Russia’s attitude is difficult to understand. As he knows, the intention of the United States—this is the matter currently under discussion with Poland—is to site 10 interceptors in Poland. Under the strategic arms reduction treaty, Russia has the right to 1,600 delivery systems—that basically means missiles—and, if I remember rightly, up to 6,000 warheads. It is inconceivable that 10 interceptors could make the slightest difference to a country with 1,600 missiles or thereabouts and a great many more warheads to deploy. That is not an argument that can be taken seriously.

I agree with the suggestion that my hon. Friend rightly made that there could be a great deal of sensitivity in Russia about a country that was a satellite of the Soviet Union and, for a century and a quarter before 1917, part of the tsarist empire and that is now, thank heaven, part of the European Union and NATO, getting involved in a close, collaborative, strategic defence relationship with the United States. I agree that that might well touch sensitive nerves. Whatever Russia’s attitude is, however, it is not based on a rational calculation of the potential impact of those interceptors in Poland on anything whatever to do with its own missile or second-strike capability. I think that we can lay that one to rest as well.

My hon. Friend asked about the legal basis for Menwith Hill. I can tell him that a legal agreement under which American personnel have worked in Menwith Hill was signed, I believe, in 1955. I might not have got the date absolutely right, but it was certainly in the ’50s. That agreement was introduced under the status of forces agreement that we signed with the Americans a few years earlier, at the beginning of the constitution of NATO. That agreement is still in place; it has never been rescinded. We do not need to sign an agreement with the United States every time we have a defence co-operation arrangement or every time we exchange information, which we do the whole time, I am glad to say. Our symbiotic relationship with the United States is the basis of a large amount of British national security. We share a lot of information and we have a very productive and important relationship, which is a great national asset.

My hon. Friend also asked me whether I believed that we should divert resources from our core defence budget to missile defence. We are not doing that, and the incremental costs involved in putting the new equipment
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into Menwith Hill and Fylingdales were met entirely by the United States, so that issue has not arisen. As I have already told him, there are at the present time no plans to site an anti-ballistic missile system in this country, so that question does not arise.

My hon. Friend asked me whether we joined the rest of NATO the other day in welcoming the Russian Government’s statement that they no longer intended to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad. Of course we welcome that; I can give him that assurance. He also asked whether the Government agreed with a particular survey. My answer is the one that I think he will have anticipated. The Government do not make it their business to agree or disagree with a survey, which is simply a series of questions. Of course, the Government listen to these surveys and take account of them, however, and I take on board what he has told me about that particular one.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked me about Parliament. Naturally, Parliament has had several opportunities before this evening to debate the ballistic missile defence
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issue. The last occasion was, I believe, 8 May last year, when we had a debate on defence in the world. The Government have made a commitment that, if we should take a decision to locate an anti-ballistic missile system with interceptors in this country, there would certainly be an opportunity for Parliament to debate the matter before we did so. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that no such decision has been taken and none is in prospect at the present time.

I think that our time is up, but may I once again congratulate my hon. Friend on his success in pursuing this cause with his characteristic tenacity? My colleagues and I remain entirely at his disposal, either for future occasions on which we can debate this matter in Parliament, or if he wants to come to see us privately to talk further about it.

Question put and agreed to.

7.9 pm

House adjourned.

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