HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc10-2
8. Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

What recent assessment he has made of the threat to the UK of a missile strike containing (a) biological, (b) chemical and (c) nuclear warheads. [58678]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

We take very seriously the ambitions of certain states to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. We recognise that some states of concern may already be capable of targeting United Kingdom forces deployed in areas close to them and of targeting the territory of some of our friends and allies.

However, we assess that there is currently no significant threat of a ballistic missile strike against the mainland of the United Kingdom delivering biological, chemical or nuclear warheads, but we do continue to monitor developments very closely, particularly as they might affect deployed British forces.

Mr. Lloyd

Will my right hon. Friend confirm the long-standing view of successive British Governments, both Conservative and Labour, that we would not use nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike? Does he agree that as far as biological and chemical weapons go, the establishment of a proper control and inspection regime should be at the top of the world's agenda and that those countries, such as the United States, that sabotage that kind of regime put not only themselves at risk, but the rest of us as well?

Mr. Hoon

I can confirm that there has been no change in the essential rules that we follow on the use of nuclear weapons. I have made it clear before how important it is to recognise that they would be used only in what are described as extreme conditions of self-defence. I want to emphasise that it does not help the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons to spell out precisely what those circumstances might be. I can stress, however, that nuclear weapons would be used proportionately and consistently with our obligations in international law.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Given the historic agreement between Russia and NATO, does the Secretary of State support the US decision to withdraw from the anti-ballistic missile treaty last December, or does he support the Labour Members who have been criticising it so much?

Mr. Hoon

As I have consistently said to the House, the ABM treaty is a matter between the parties: the United States and, formerly, the Soviet Union, now its successor state, Russia. In those circumstances, it is not a matter for the British Government to make observations about the appropriateness or otherwise of that treaty having come to an end. However, the fact that there is now an agreement to effect a very substantial reduction in the offensive weapons systems available to both Russia and the US must be cause for congratulation, and it is a great success.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

Both the MOD's White Paper and the national intelligence estimate to the US Senate conclude that the missile threat is very remote compared with the threat posed by smuggled weapons of mass destruction. Our Chief of the Defence Staff and his predecessor are among the many experts who have expressed doubts about missile defence. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wise to base British defence policy on military intelligence, on intelligence in a broader sense and on British interests, and not on a desire to appease the obsessions of the US Republican hawks?

Mr. Hoon

If my hon. Friend was referring, as I think he was, to the prospect of the United Kingdom becoming involved in missile defence, I am sure that he knows my answer better than I do. For the avoidance of doubt, I shall repeat it: we have not been asked to participate in any such system, and unless and until we are, our position remains that we wait to see what system the US decides on.

I do not think that my hon. Friend's initial analogy is appropriate. Even if I accepted his argument as being true, it is not appropriate to say that simply because there is a greater threat, we should avoid taking defensive measures against the lesser threat.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

The Secretary of State will agree that the assessment of any threat to the United Kingdom from any source depends heavily on the competence of our intelligence services—MI5, MI6 and our Army special forces. Is he aware that a deliberate black propaganda campaign is being carried out by a number of newspapers and by a television programme, to be shown later this week, to blacken the reputation of special forces who have served in Northern Ireland—the same special forces who served in Afghanistan? What is the Ministry of Defence doing in a proactive, positive way—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's question is far too wide.