HL Deb 03 November 2004 vol 666 cc304-5

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

What discussions they have held with the United States Administration this year with regard to the siting of a United States-controlled missile defence system in the United Kingdom.

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

None, my Lords. There have been no such discussions.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, which confirms my deepest fears. As a Written Statement placed in the Libraries of both Houses informed Parliament, the Government last month signed an agreement with the US Administration that involves the UK in further substantial commitments. Does the Minister think that a few Written Statements and references to missile defence during debates on Iraq constitute full parliamentary debate? What implications does this missile defence system have for our foreign policy and for European and global security? In replying, will he consider the implications for arms control and reduction treaties of another four years of the Bush Administration's isolationist policies?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the document that has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses does not, with the greatest respect, do what the noble Baroness suggests. No request has been made to us by the United States authorities to extend missile defence for them in this country. We have not changed our stance on this at all. The document is there for people to see and I very much regret the press campaign—which I think led the noble Baroness to ask this Question—which is completely false.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, is the Minister cautious about being caught on what is very much a right-wing agenda in the United States in relation to the deployment of missile defence? After all, it was one of the priorities of the Reagan administration and has been one of the priorities of Donald Rumsfeld. Will he assure us about the network of agreements that we now have with the United States? This is the 2003 agreement, which refers to the 1958 and 1960 agreements, and there was also a 1944 agreement and a range of others. It would be helpful, as we start the second Bush Administration, if the Government published a Green Paper explaining the network of agreements between the United States and Great Britain with regard to the military and intelligence activities of the United States on British soil.

Lord Bach

My Lords, what concerns me and what I believe should concern the House is the UK Government's policy in this field. The Government have not yet decided whether we need our own missile defence. The US has offered to extend coverage and make missile defence capabilities available to the UK and other allies, should we require them. However, that is a decision for the future when the US system has further evolved and we have better information on potential costs and architecture, and will depend on how threats and technologies evolve.

We cannot be sure when a ballistic missile threat to the UK might emerge. We do not believe that there is one at present. However, if a country close enough to Europe manages to acquire a complete long-range ballistic missile system, a capability to target us could emerge within the next few years.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, will the Minister answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, instead of making a Statement to the House?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I thought that I had.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, will the Minister assure us that the existing or any future missile defence system will not impinge on the radio spectrum currently used by radio astronomers?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I do not know the answer to that question. I imagine that it certainly would not, but I will look into the matter and write to the noble Lord.

Lord Garden

My Lords, even the most ardent advocates of missile defence in the United States admit that the deployment of the Alaskan system has been done without full testing and development and has a very notional capability. Does the Minister have total transparency of the results of tests so that he can make informed decisions in future?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am sure that we will.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I must ask the Minister to take back his rather cheap remark that my Question came about because of the press campaign. It was brought about by the document placed in the Library in conjunction with the House of Commons Defence Committee's remark on missile defence that: Despite the Secretary of State's unequivocal statement that he wanted the decision [to upgrade] to be informed by public and parliamentary discussion, he has acted in a way that has effectively curtailed such discussions". That statement brought about my Question.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am sorry if my remark seemed cheap. It just seemed remarkable that there were press reports on 17 and 24 October and this Question was asked on 3 November.