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1.41 pm

Lord Luke: My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for securing the debate, which at the very least has shown how many different and strongly held opinions there are on this important subject. I am very aware that it is not an easy task to debate this question. It brings with it some uncomfortable truths. The international community is not a safe place and sadly it has not become safer since the end of the Cold War. With each new horrific terrorist attack, it becomes more grotesquely clear that there are rogue states and organisations that will stop at nothing in the pursuit of territorial, political and, sadly, religious expansionism. The need for this House even to consider such a thing as a missile defence system is its stark manifestation. We on these Benches are in favour of preserving human life and therefore ensuring global peace. Therefore, if the missile system enables this, then we are in support of it.

However, we will not support Her Majesty’s Government entering into any particular missile system without sufficient parliamentary discussion or gauging popular consent. In July last year when Her Majesty’s Government said that they would take part in the next stage of the proposed US Ballistic Missile Defence initiative, at RAF Menwith Hill, they came close to such circumvention. The decision to upgrade the existing radar technology to allow the US to collect it for its own BMD system was indeed a major decision, but it was announced just before the Recess.

I wonder whether the Minister can adequately defend Her Majesty’s Government against the claim of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee that they “buried” the statement. We stand foursquare behind Her Majesty’s Government’s diplomatic friendship with America and of course the special relationship. While the MoD believes that currently there is no significant ballistic missile threat to the UK we cannot and must not ever ignore the increasing number of states that are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction and missile capabilities.

In March 2007 General Obering’s conclusions from testing the interceptors went some way to silencing critics who believe that the Star Wars technology is incapable of working and showed that a missile could be successfully intercepted before arriving at its target. However, like your Lordships, I am aware that one of the system’s most dangerous, important and powerful critics, Russia’s President Putin, sees this not as a defence system at all, but as thinly veiled aggressive American expansionism. He is most concerned by the negotiations for the placement of land interceptor sites in Poland and radar installations in the Czech

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Republic. He has phrased comments about the US missile defence system in June last year in language that sounded ominously close to the language of the Cold War and past arms races.

Any threat to Russia from the defence system is nonsensical. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, Russia could one day come into the system. Will the Minister comment on the recent sale by Ofcom of the radio spectrum band used by Fylingdales? Is she confident that a commercial user of the band, having bought it, will not be adversely affected by any subsequent US military installation at Fylingdales? It is lunacy if our effort to safeguard our nation provokes hostility and fear from other nations. I feel Her Majesty’s Government must be committed to showing the world that the missile defence system is not seen as an alternative to diplomacy, not even as a back-up, but as a last resort only.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the UK’s future negotiations with the US regarding this defence mechanism will be proceeded with through open negotiations? I am anxious that Her Majesty’s Government should avoid stoking any further the fires of Russia's increasing—and unnecessary—suspicion over US defence measures by seeming to act covertly. Does the Minister agree that we must avoid any situation arising again like that of February 2007 when there was so much media speculation that the Government might have offered to base the third missile interceptor site on UK soil instead of in Poland?

My noble friend Lord Marlesford rightly pointed out that there is no difference between the issue of sovereignty now as it has been since the first American bases were placed in this country. He also most interestingly drew some historical analogies as to how the use of nuclear weapons in 1945 has stopped further use. However, there is always a threat, particularly if a rogue power, if there are such things, or possibly even an organisation, gets hold of a nuclear weapon.

I look forward to hearing and participating in further debates on this contentious issue. With Poland’s new governmental administration it is now far from certain that America will be able to build any interceptor sites at all on Polish land. Dissenting from the previous Government’s policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, pointed out, the new foreign minister Radek Sikorski said last weekend, conjuring up memories of our incredibly brave allies from Poland in World War Two:

I do not know what that means. It does not say that Poland is not going to have it. It simply distances Poland from it and perhaps negotiations will change the situation. Furthermore, I ask whether we can even be certain of America’s commitment to the cause, for in November of this year there will be a new president, who will not necessarily be a patron of the missile defence system. Indeed, how confident is the noble Baroness that an anti-missile shield will ever be completed at all?

I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Powell, on their excellent short speeches; they were both most eloquent.

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To conclude, I reiterate that we on these Benches support the concept behind missile defence. That being said, any further addition to US military assets or expansion of military facilities in this country should go through a proper review and debate both in this House and the other place.

1.50 pm

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, this robust and extremely well informed debate has given us all an opportunity to air our views on the issue of ballistic missile defence, in particular the UK’s participation in the planned US missile defence architecture. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who for many years has been keeping his experienced eye on this area of policy, for initiating the debate. I reiterate that my noble friend Lady Taylor is sorry that she cannot be present to respond today because of illness.

The Government have never been afraid of debating the issue of ballistic missile defence. Indeed, a Commons debate on this issue took place in early 2003 after the Government received a US request to upgrade the missile tracking radar system at RAF Fylingdales, and after the Ministry of Defence had published a discussion document on missile defence in November 2002. The principles underlying missile defence have not changed in the intervening time. The noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Crosby, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer and Lady Falkner, my noble friend Lord Judd, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and my noble friend Lord Giddens, who said that he is a critic of the Government’s position, have all raised the issue of a lack of opportunity for a proper debate on the issue as they see it. I would say that both Houses have had an opportunity to question Defence Ministers on missile defence, both in writing and orally, and rightly so. As the then Prime Minister said on 28 February last year, if the Government need to re-examine their position on missile defence and take further steps on participation, we will present those propositions to the House and have the necessary discussions, but we would seek to do this only when there are proposals or propositions to be made. At present, there are none.

It is the prime responsibility of any Government to ensure as far as possible the safety and security of their people, and it is this responsibility that is at the core of government policy. Co-operation with the United States is part of that responsibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, pointed out, and as we have said on many occasions, the UK Government have no plans independently to acquire ballistic missile defence assets for this country. We were asked by the noble Lords, Lord Luke, Lord Wallace, Lord Marlesford, my noble friend Lord Judd and several other noble Lords whether we have plans to host UK ballistic missile interceptor sites in the UK. I can say that we have no plans to do so. As of today, we do not believe that any state with ballistic missiles currently has the intention to target them against the UK mainland. However, we would be foolish not to keep a vigilant eye on the world and on any changes in the strategic threat.

The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Marlesford, put the strategic threat into an historical context; it is a threat that we have faced over many decades. Missiles

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and weapons of mass destruction are proliferating among states of concern. The pace of that proliferation, as well as the intentions of the states developing those capabilities, is hard to gauge, and that has come through in the debate. Indeed, a NATO feasibility study into missile defence reported in 2006 and recognised a growing threat from long-range missiles that could reach the territory of NATO members. Although work on ballistic missile defence in the NATO context is reaching maturity, no decision has yet been taken by NATO on the acquisition of a ballistic missile defence capability to protect NATO homelands. Rather than alienating our allies, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, suggested in his forceful and effective contribution, we are working closely with our NATO allies on this.

There have also been claims that the deployment of US missile defence systems in Europe will provoke a new arms race with Russia. In response to this, I would simply point out that the US development of its missile defence system is a response to, and not the cause of, the emerging threat from a number of countries of concern which are developing or seeking to obtain long-range missiles. But Russia has raised a number of concerns about the US plans. Although we do not believe, along with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we are slipping back into a Cold War era, we have to take those concerns seriously. Russia has asserted that the missile defence system could be used in an offensive way against it. In response, Russia threatens to target unspecified locations in Europe with nuclear weapons. The deployment of 10 missile defence interceptors is demonstrably irrelevant to a Russian strategic nuclear arsenal still numbering thousands of warheads, as the noble Lord, Lord Powell, has said. Poland, as the proposed site for the interceptor missiles, is a good option for responding to a threat from the Middle East, and not Russia. The Russians are fully aware of the capabilities and limitations of the proposed US system and are aware that their security should not and could not be threatened by it, a point suggested by my noble friend Lord Young.

Russia has linked missile defence with a threatened withdrawal from, and the suspension of, its obligations to legally binding treaties. Russia has also questioned the perceived threat from Iran. The recently published US National Intelligence Estimate, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, assesses that Iran is likely to have ceased its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 and is unlikely to have restarted it. The US assessment does not change the fundamental problem that we face—Iran is pursuing a uranium-enrichment programme that has, as far as we can see, no civilian application despite the unanimous demand from the UN Security Council and the IAEA that it stop. Instead, the IAEA has said that its knowledge of Iran’s programme is diminishing. We must address this concern and do so now.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and my noble friend Lord Giddens both suggested that US/Russian collaboration is much needed on missile defence, and I am pleased to say that both nations have taken a positive and constructive approach to addressing the concerns that have been aired. At recent discussions in Moscow, the US suggested a number of practical

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and realistic measures to resolve the impasse, and encouraged discussion and information-sharing on the level of threat that the ballistic missile defence system could offer protection against.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me for interrupting, but what she has just said is extremely important. Can Her Majesty’s Government make known to this House what proposals are being put forward by the United States in the light of the earlier rejection of the Russian proposals with regard to Azerbaijan?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I am not certain that I can answer the question on Azerbaijan, so I will write to the noble Baroness, but I think that my next paragraph will answer the first part of her question.

In November, the US formally presented its proposals. These included federating Russian radar sensors into a joint missile defence architecture; creating joint missile defence data exchange centres in Russia and Europe; and the phased activation of the European architecture. That was an important point—that it can be activated in response to any increase in the ballistic missile threat from countries of concern. These discussions have been encouraging, and although a solution is still some way off—again, some noble Lords in the debate were sceptical that a solution would be found—we believe that good progress is being made.

In considering the way ahead, we are conscious of the importance of NATO allies sending clear messages to Russia, and of our own commitment to upholding the principles that have served European security so well since the end of the Cold War: openness, consensus, transparency, engagement, honouring politically binding and legally binding obligations, and host state consent for the presence of foreign military forces. We will continue to work through NATO to promote these principles and we urge Russia to work with us to do the same.

US discussions continue with the Polish and the Czech Governments on the basing of the additional missile defence assets in Europe. These discussions are taking place in a demanding diplomatic environment, and the sensitivity and importance of this issue requires that detailed negotiations be conducted at all levels. It is not our policy to comment on diplomatic negotiations between foreign countries. As they are bilateral, the UK plays no part in them, but we are kept apprised of the outcomes as part of a wider discussion with the US on the progress of the ballistic missile defence programme. If these negotiations have implications for the UK, we will report them to Parliament.

There have been reports in the international media that UK and US Governments are also discussing the basing of interceptors here in the UK. I say now that that is simply not true—there are no plans to base interceptors here. If in the future we decide that the acquisition of such technology becomes essential to the security of the United Kingdom, we will re-examine this position. This re-examination would come not from a desire to follow blindly the defence policy of other nations—as we have been accused of in the

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debate—but from a recognition of our need to ensure our national security against emerging threats.

The Government have also made clear the role we believe that an effective missile defence system could play. We already contribute to the US system through the early warning information provided by RAF Fylingdales, and the information routed through RAF Menwith Hill, and we co-operate closely with the US on technology programmes.

The Government have been criticised over the way that they announced the decision to allow US Governments to use the satellite relay station at RAF Menwith Hill to route early warning data to the missile defence system. The original decision to allow the US to use RAF Menwith Hill as a relay station for satellite data was taken in March 1997. The purpose of the relay station was then—and remains—to warn the UK and the US of any missile attack on our countries. What the Government agreed to recently was that the US could use this same satellite data in their missile defence system. The fact that satellite early warning information flows through RAF Menwith Hill has not changed. All that is different is that the US Government are now able to use this early warning information to inform their missile defence systems of possible missile launches from states of concern, and to assist in the interception of these missiles.

The Written Statement that was given in another place on 25 July—it was quoted by my noble friend Lord Young in his excellent speech—was not “sneaked out” or “slipped out”, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire observed, or “buried”, as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, stated. The Government’s agreement to this arrangement was given in an exchange of classified letters between the US Defense Secretary, who wrote on 29 June 2007, and the Secretary of State for Defence, who replied on 16 July 2007. The timing of the announcement to the House on 25 July, just prior to the Summer Recess, was therefore entirely appropriate. The Ministry of Defence also produced a press release on the Written Statement on 26 July.

Ballistic missile defence is not a weapon of first strike. It is not a sword, but a shield that could protect against the emerging threat of the long-range missiles that are being developed, or acquired, by states of concern—states that one day may wish to use them to harm NATO countries. The prospect of a nuclear, biological or chemical warhead detonating in Paris, Washington, Rome or London is horrendous, and I am sure that you will agree that we should strive to prevent this eventuality at all costs. If there is anything that we as a Government can do to reduce this threat, we have a responsibility to do it.

I was asked a number of questions by noble Lords. I will rattle through them as quickly as I can in the time I have, and I assure those noble Lords whose questions I do not answer that I will of course write to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about the Prime Minister’s Statement of February 2007, referring to the article in the Economist that suggested that the UK was negotiating with the US over the siting of

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MD interceptor missiles here. It was these proposals to which the Prime Minister was referring.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, also asked me about Germany’s request for more multilateral discussions on missile defence, and stated that the UK had not responded. The UK provides regular updates on missile defence activities through NATO. This includes statements on UK policy and on missile defence, and updates on co-operation with the US on its BMD system.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that my right honourable friend Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, had misled the House on the issue of Menwith Hill. I strongly reject any suggestion that the Secretary of State for Defence misled Parliament over the request from the US for the use of Menwith Hill for missile defence proposals. In April last year, the UK Government had received no request from the US. A formal request was received in a letter from the US Defense Secretary, dated 29 June.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and other noble Lords, made strong points about the issue of sovereignty in relation to Menwith Hill. The Government take the issue of sovereignty extremely seriously. Menwith Hill is United Kingdom territory. The base is under the command of an RAF officer—there is no question of UK sovereignty being compromised.

My Lords, we have had a good, in-depth debate on missile defence. Many issues were raised, and many interesting and informed questions asked, and I hope that I have provided satisfactory answers to as many of those questions as I could in the time. I will write to noble Lords whose questions I was unable to answer today. I will not go into detail about the operations at Menwith Hill, which are highly classified. However, I undertake to write to noble Lords on the matter in more detail.

The noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Marlesford, asked whether the UK will accept US interceptors if negotiations with Poland fail. There are no plans to offer the UK as a potential site for interceptor missiles should negotiations with the Polish Government fail. However, as the Secretary of State for Defence said in his Written Statement on 25 July, the UK,

My noble friend Lord Giddens asked about the threat to the UK from hosting missile defence assets. The 2003 report by the House of Commons Defence Committee agreed that the upgrade to Fylingdales would not increase the threat to the UK. Even with the US now able to use Menwith Hill to route early warning satellite data through its missile defence system, the Government feel that the situation has not changed. The US missile defence system is designed to counter a limited threat from a state of concern and these missiles would be limited in terms of numbers and their ability to accurately strike their target. It is felt unlikely that a state with limited opportunities to strike against the US and her allies would wish to target a relatively small target such as a radar station, which it may not hit, when a large population centre offers a more attractive and potentially devastating target.

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The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, asked about the economic benefits to the UK from BMD. The UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2003 that allows bilateral information exchanges and co-operative work that prepares the way for fair opportunities to be given to UK industry in participation in US systems.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked about the uranium enrichment bank. The UK accepts concerns about climate change, and the longer term availability and affordability of fossil fuels will lead to increased interest in the generation of nuclear power. We support the right of countries to undertake to develop nuclear technologies for safe, secure and peaceful uses. We are working on the creation of a viable, attractive and internationally agreed regime of nuclear fuel assurances under the auspices of the IAEA, which will make it unnecessary for nations to develop technically complex and expensive in-country enrichment and reprocessing facilities.

I see that I am out of time. I still have a good bunch of questions to answer, and I will answer them in writing. I thank noble Lords for a rigorous, well-informed and robust debate.

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