HL Deb 28 June 2001 vol 626 cc473-5

3.10 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How far the plans for missile defence as spelt out by the United States Administration to their allies in recent weeks depend on British co-operation in making early warning systems available.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, we welcome the extensive recent consultation of NATO allies, and others, by the United States on missile defence and related issues. However, it remains the case that the US has not yet decided how it wishes to proceed with missile defence. Therefore, we do not know the extent of British co-operation that might be proposed. It remains premature to indicate how we would respond to any specific requests.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Can he give an assurance that the House will be informed if this "missile defence system"—as we must now learn to call it—does require the use of sovereign bases on British territory? There are large issues of British sovereignty involved here. Such bases are operating on British soil under effective American control according to a secret agreement which, so far as I am aware, has never been reported to this Parliament. It would be good to have an assurance from the Government that they will provide a report at that stage, rather than, as has happened so often in security relations in the past, waiting for information to leak out in Washington as the US Administration tell Congress things that the British Government will not tell their own Parliament.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, when the Government determine their strategy on the matter, will my noble friend ensure that the risk of proliferation internationally is taken into very careful account?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we understand why the United States of America is concerned about the threat from weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. We take those concerns most seriously; as, indeed, we must. Weapons of mass destruction proliferation is also a real concern for us, not least when we deploy forces to certain parts of the world. Although we currently see no significant threats to the British Isles from these weapons, we believe that it is important for all responsible nations to try to tackle the potential threat. We also believe that it is important to tackle the potential threat with a comprehensive strategy that includes non-proliferation and counter-proliferation measures, diplomacy and deterrents as well as defensive measures. We shall continue to work closely with the United States, and other allies and friends, in these areas.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, while it is true that the Americans have made no firm proposals— indeed, they have not settled finally on the successful technology path—is it not the position that, if this whole project about which the Americans are very serious is to go forward, very active support and cooperation will be required from us in relation to the forward detecting stations at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill? Can the noble Lord assure the House that support has already been offered to the Americans on the basis that if they go forward, they will receive full co-operation from us in those respects?

Lord Bach

My Lords, we have said that we wish to be helpful to our closest ally, the United States. However, it appears that the US may not be envisaging the use of United Kingdom facilities in its thinking on a range of short-term issues. The Bush Administration have not yet fleshed out their ideas on specific proposals. Therefore, it would be dangerous to make a categorical statement at this time. It is our understanding that the United States' thinking includes examining options for the early deployment of airborne and sea-base systems. However, other options are being considered. As I say, the US Administration have as yet made no firm decisions. When that Administration do make firm decisions, that will be the time for me to answer the noble Lord's question more directly.