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House of Commons

Tuesday 5 February 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

National Missile Defence

1. Norman Baker (Lewes): When he last discussed the foreign policy implications of national missile defence with his US counterpart. [30481]

5. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): What discussions he has had with the US Administration on their proposed withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972. [30485]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I have regular discussions with the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on many matters, including threats to international peace and security from weapons of mass destruction and missile proliferation. We last discussed specific proposals for missile defence on 11 December.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that answer. When he is asked about this matter, he generally hides behind the formula that no request has yet been made by the US authorities, and that therefore he is not in a position to state the Government's policy. However, he must have made an assessment of the British national interest in this matter. Will he tell the House what that assessment is, and whether it is in our national interest for this country to be used as a base for NMD?

Mr. Straw: I hide behind no formula, but the truth is very simple: we have received no request to use Menwith Hill or Fylingdales in respect of a further upgrade of US missile defence.

As for the general issue of missile defence, the hon. Gentleman would be well advised to take the rational and proportionate approach of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party, according to which the merits of missile defence are considered carefully, if I have got it right. The simple fact of the matter is that we in this country have long

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recognised the case, in appropriate circumstances, for measures of missile defence. They are permitted by the ABM treaty. Moreover, if missile defence systems had been available at the time of the German V1 and V2 rockets, many thousands of lives in this country would have been saved.

Brian White: My right hon. Friend will be aware that the measured response of President Putin and the Russian Government is one of the reasons why this has not yet developed into an international crisis. He will also be aware of the perception in many parts of the world that US foreign policy is based on double standards, because America is prepared to rip up the ABM treaty, reject the Kyoto agreement, ignore the World Trade Organisation ruling, blockade Cuba and so on. Is it not up to us as the closest ally of the US to make it aware of the dangers of that approach?

Mr. Straw: One of the reasons why President Putin's response to these proposals has indeed been measured is the fact that the proposals themselves have been measured. That has been recognised by the President of the Russian Federation. Moreover, although I understand that this is a matter of regret to some of my hon. Friends and indeed other people, the decisions taken by the US to seek an end to the ABM treaty were taken in accordance with the terms of the treaty and international law.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that a good phrase to describe the rogue states against which missile defence might provide some protection is "an axis of evil"; or does he think that those who use that phrase are just electioneering?

Mr. Straw: As I said when I was in the US, I applaud the fact that President Bush has drawn attention to the twin threats of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): In reviewing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2000, all countries promised to maintain and strengthen the ABM treaty and rapidly to ratify the test ban treaty. Will the Government try to impress on our US allies the fact that, by directly contravening those undertakings while blocking other arms control agreements, they increase the risk of proliferation and endanger us all?

Mr. Straw: I am afraid that I do not accept the conclusion that my hon. Friend draws about the US position. Although the US has not ratified certain international instruments, it has respected almost every instrument in this field that I can think of.

We are not a party to the ABM treaty; it is a bilateral treaty between the US and the former Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation. The US is entitled to give notice under that treaty, as it has done. As the House has already recognised, the response of the Russian Federation has been measured, in my judgment, because of the measured proposals from the US.

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Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Will the Foreign Secretary reassert today his words reported in The Times on 21 November last year that there was

and that

Does he also recall referring in a parliamentary Labour party briefing on missile defence of 1 August last year to the "growing missile threat" and to states, including Iran and Iraq, acquiring such missiles, and commenting that it was difficult to see the purpose of that other than

Does he also recall in the same briefing note, under the heading, "Dealing with 'Rogue States'", specifically referring to North Korea and commenting that we could not stop it

Does he still stand by those comments? In the light of them, does not he agree that he should have thought twice before criticising President Bush's speech last week, not least by judging it according to the criteria by which he obviously writes his own?

Mr. Straw: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his homework in reading my speeches. I hope that he agrees not only with those speeches but with others. In particular, he drew attention to the excellent Tribune column that I wrote on 24 July.

I repeat that I strongly support the President's call for action on the twin threats of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. As for the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the domestic context of the state of the union speech, I can do no better than draw on the view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition last week, when he said:

I agree with him.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): How would a nuclear missile defence system have protected the United States from the events of 11 September? Clearly, it would not have done so. If America were to go ahead with a programme that had little scientific base for being successful and that would be astronomically expensive, would this country automatically grant the United States of America a right to site bases on our soil, or would there be a debate before any such undertaking was given?

Mr. Straw: Of course there would be nothing automatic about the granting of any such rights, as these matters require careful consideration. My hon. Friend is also right to say that a missile defence system would palpably not have prevented the atrocities of 11 September. However, that does not lead me to conclude that the world is safer as a result of the atrocities of 11 September—rather, that the danger not only from such international terrorism but from the use of missile systems by rogue states and semi-states is much greater. Therefore, we should consider and examine propositions for missile defence on their merits.

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I must say to my hon. Friend that it is slightly ironic that the implication, as in the past, of people saying that they refuse to discuss missile defence is that they fall back on the old doctrine of mutually assured destruction, which was exactly the doctrine that many of us opposed when it was proposed. Had there been missile defence then, we would have been in favour of it.

Middle East

2. Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): What steps he is taking to help the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate. [30482]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We are in regular contact with the Israelis and the Palestinians. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to Mr. Sharon this morning. I visited the region two weeks ago. We urge both parties to de-escalate the tension and resume negotiations to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: The Minister sums up nicely the Government's attitude—do nothing and hope that the problem goes away. This tit-for-tat situation is getting worse and worse. When will the Foreign Secretary go out there to try to get both sides together and start negotiations to sort out the situation before it gets out of hand? When will he do something about it in practice, as opposed to spin?

Mr. Bradshaw: The reaction of most hon. Members showed what they thought of that supposed question. The British Government have been very engaged in the middle east peace process before and since 11 September. The hon. Gentleman may remember a visit that the Prime Minister paid to the region after 11 September, which was shortly followed by a visit to the United States that was crucial in persuading the Americans to become more engaged, in President Bush making a speech in which he became the first President to talk about a Palestinian state and in Colin Powell making a similar speech.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Does my hon. Friend believe that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are more likely to begin and succeed if this country stands up to Iran and opposes its support for terrorism in the middle east and its specific support for the annihilation of Israel? In particular, is he aware of the statement by Kind Abdullah of Jordan that Iran, through Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is planning major attacks on Israeli civilians from Jordanian territory?

Mr. Bradshaw: I agree with my hon. Friend that the role of Iran and of other countries in the region that support rejectionist Palestinian groups not only threatens to terrorise and cause death and mayhem in Israel but undermines the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): The fact that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now on the Government's proscribed list of terrorist organisations is very welcome. What evidence do the Government have

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of links between those terrorist organisations and foreign Governments? What aid is the British Government giving to Israel to help to defeat those terrorist groups?

Mr. Bradshaw: We always make plain our abhorrence of terrorism in all its forms, from whatever quarters it comes. We acknowledge that there is contact between countries in the region and rejectionist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We condemn that and regularly raise the issue with the Governments with whom we have diplomatic relations.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to see early-day motion 763, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick)? It identifies the role played by the Israeli reservists who have refused to participate in a campaign the purpose of which is to occupy, deport, destroy, blockade, kill, starve and humiliate an entire people. Does my hon. Friend agree that the refusal of Israeli defence forces to serve in southern Lebanon ended the occupation of that area by Israel and brought peace to Israel? Would not the Israeli Government be well advised to pay attention to the advice of the Israeli reservists, because only when they end the occupation will there be peace between Israel and Palestine?

Mr. Bradshaw: It is not for me to comment on the internal matters of the Israeli defence forces or, indeed, on the behaviour of some of Israel's reservists. During my visit two weeks ago I noticed an encouraging resurgence of criticism among ordinary people on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides of the current policies deployed by the Israeli Government in the occupied territories and by the Palestinian Authority against Israel, which they saw as unhelpful and simply contributing to a spiral of violence.

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