HL Deb 28 January 2002 vol 631 cc6-8

2.51 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether American abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty implies a change in British policy towards United States use of intelligence and early warning facilities under United Kingdom sovereignty, and towards their future development.

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

My Lords, last December, the United States, exercising its treaty rights, gave Russia six months' notice of its intention to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States and Russia continue to discuss a future strategic framework for relations based on mutual confidence, openness and co-operation. Our position on the use of intelligence and early warning facilities remains unchanged. We have received no requests from the United States for the use of UK facilities for missile defence purposes and it remains premature to indicate how we would respond to any specific request.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that reply, I note that the United States and Russia have not yet come to any agreement on what might replace the ABM Treaty. Does the Minister accept that our arrangements with the United States have to operate within the framework of international law and treaties and that if the position of the United States towards that framework begins to weaken, a number of questions will arise? Is he happy that the arrangements for Menwith Hill and Fylingdales are still covered by the NATO status of forces agreement of 1951 and that there has been no recent report to this House or to the other place reflecting the enormous changes in the use of those facilities since 1951? Is he aware that there is now a planning application before Harrogate Council for a third large radome to be erected at Menwith Hill, which I think must be for a space-based infra-red system for use in anti-missile systems? Even if the United States Government have not yet asked the British Government, the British Government might perhaps notice that it is about to be erected, as I notice the first two when I go past them.

Lord Bach

My Lords, RAF Fylingdales and RAF Menwith Hill have performed functions vital to the security of the United States, the United Kingdom and NATO for many years and will continue to do so regardless of how the United States Government seek to proceed with missile defence. We believe that the NATO status of forces agreement of 1951 still applies. The new radome that the noble Lord asked about will update equipment currently in use at the base and is unrelated to missile defence.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, is not the situation the reverse of that stated by the Minister? If the American Government abrogate the treaty, might they not be unwilling to share information with the United Kingdom, as they have done in the past?

Lord Filkin

No, my Lords. First, the United States Government have not abrogated the ABM Treaty. They have given Russia six months' notice of their intention to withdraw from the treaty. The treaty makes explicit provision for such a course of action, as Russia has acknowledged. The Americans have also made it clear that they will not violate the treaty while they are bound by its terms. There will be no difference in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States on intelligence.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we are paddling in dangerous waters? Will he confirm to the House, in case we should be contemplating any quixotic gesture, that the balance of intelligence between this country and the United States is weighted heavily in our favour? If that exchange should cease, our national interests, not theirs, would be damaged.

Lord Bach

My Lords, whichever way it is balanced, it is clear that it is in the mutual interests of our closest allies and ourselves that intelligence should continue between us.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, for all the talk of national missile defence leading to a nuclear arms race, in fact the reverse has happened and that both the United States and the Russians are reducing their nuclear arsenals following America's plans for missile defence?

Lord Bach

Yes, my Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. There is no doubt that the new relationship between Russia and the United States and the new relationship between Russia and NATO are of huge potential benefit to world peace.

Lord Jones

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the excellence of the British intelligence agencies enhances the relationship between the British Government and the United States Government? Does he also agree that British intelligence greatly informs British foreign policy?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the answer to both my noble friend's questions is yes.