Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)



  160. But you are speculating. Your officials are speculating.
  (Mr Hoon) Well, you are asking me to appear here to set out the Government's policy. That policy cannot be set out until the US Administration has decided precisely what it is that it intends to do as far as missile defence is concerned.

  161. Okay, I am clearly not getting any further with this and the fig-leaf is clearly in place. I have two more questions which again might be put into the realms of speculation, in which case you are going to be able to cast them aside again, but if we did receive a request from the Americans for either or both, Fylingdales or Menwith Hill, the possibility exists that that would result in quite a lot of public disturbance from those who disagree with the whole thing. Is that something that you have considered might occur?
  (Mr Hoon) I have set out on a number of previous occasions the Government's recognition that missile defence, as I have said again this morning, might well, alongside other policies, play a valuable role in defending both the United Kingdom and its allies and, in particular, its closest ally, the United States, so whilst I do not necessarily expect people to be cheering in the streets in support of such a decision, I think there will be a strong body of opinion that recognises the importance of such an approach.

  162. So you do not think that there is going to be the need for any debate initiated by you or the Government, and you do not foresee any Greenham Common-type approach?
  (Mr Hoon) I am sure that this Committee and Members of Parliament would expect there to be a debate in Parliament about it, as I am sure that there would be a debate in the country.

  163. I mean a public debate.
  (Mr Hoon) Yes, I said a debate in the country.

  164. My last question is simply this: there are disagreements with both the approach that the United States is taking on this whole subject, with which you do not disagree, the Government does not disagree, and we do not disagree, but there are disagreements and, therefore, the question is how does the United States get its message over in the United Kingdom to mould public opinion and also in the other European countries?
  (Mr Hoon) This process that the Committee is engaged on is part of that effort to discuss more widely the implications of the kinds of threats that we face in the world and the kinds of solutions that there are available. I do believe that public attitudes will have changed significantly as a result of the events of 11 September because I do not think any of us would have imagined that people were prepared to go to such lengths. In a sense part of the public concern prior to 11 September was the sense that groups or states could not contemplate such appalling acts, but clearly 11 September demonstrates that they could.


  165. As the decider with Yorkshire, you are "out-Boycotting" Geoffrey Boycott, Secretary of State!
  (Mr Hoon) He was a very good batsman.

  166. Well, not very exciting!
  (Mr Hoon) I challenge you to go and say that in Yorkshire!

  167. Well, no doubt we will be coming up to Yorkshire to look at how well the stonewalling has been, but my one concern has been that I have no doubts whatsoever about the American application to develop the sites, not the slightest doubt, but your strategy is that you are waiting for the request to come in and then once the request comes in, you start campaigning for it, and the disadvantage is that in a way you lose the initiative. Is there not a case to start preparing public opinion because it is obvious to me, if not to the Ministry of Defence, obvious to them, that the Americans are not going to hire an oil-rig as an alternative to these sites, that they are intent on proceeding, it is obvious, and these two sites are part of that process. By waiting for the request to come in and then to begin to campaign, do you not think that theoretically, only theoretically, the initiative might have been slightly lost and that you are wrong-footed because the press then start arguing the case for and against and saying that you will have to do what you know you will have to do?
  (Mr Hoon) I think the short answer is that it is much more sensible to have a public debate on the basis of what we know rather than what we might speculate about.

  168. Well, I know that at midnight tonight it will be twelve o'clock and at least I can prepare for the inevitable, whereas you are not publicly preparing for it. Well, maybe if one request is formally made, then the agenda changes and then we can remind you.
  (Mr Hoon) And that is precisely the Government's position and I will be delighted to return to the Committee to answer your real questions rather than your speculative ones!

  Chairman: And you will be asking for our support!

Mr Roy

  169. Secretary of State, as a Scotsman who knows absolutely nothing about cricket, however, I would certainly like to score a goal against you and get something on the score board. We heard last month in Washington that a Pacific-focused X-band radar system could be built in Alaska. That was fact and we were told that, but in what sort of timescale could a decision on a possible X-band radar in the United Kingdom be considered, as far as we are concerned?
  (Mr Hoon) The difficulty with that question is that since the Americans have not yet even decided on making a request for the upgrade of facilities at Fylingdales, you can rest assured, and I emphasise this, that the Americans have not made a request for a site for the construction of an X-band radar. Therefore, I am afraid you are building speculation on speculation.

  170. So there has been no discussion on X-band radar at all?
  (Mr Hoon) There has been a considerable amount of public speculation and debate about X-band radar.

  171. That was not the question. The question was has there been any discussion at all?
  (Mr Hoon) I have not had any specific discussion with my United States counterpart about the use of an X-band radar, no.

  172. What about your officials?
  (Mr Hoon) Clearly there have been contacts between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence in order to allow us to develop some thinking about the future prospects for missile defence and I am sure that in the course of those contacts the phrase "X-band radar" was used, but I can equally guarantee to you that no decisions have been made.

  173. I accept that no decisions have been made, but, to go back to the first sentence, would a possible timescale have been discussed by your officials in discussions in which you did not take part?
  (Mr Hoon) Again I am sure that in the course of doing their job properly, officials in the Ministry of Defence will have considered a range of scenarios and there will have been, therefore, some discussion of X-band radar in those scenarios, but they are scenarios and if you invite me to step out of the goal so that you can kick the ball in, then that might concentrate far too closely on one specific scenario, but I do emphasise that it is only one particular scenario out of very many.

  174. And the timescale?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, again scenarios involve a mapping of a whole series of timescales.

  175. Would you expect the timescale to be a scenario?
  (Mr Hoon) Well, scenarios depend on a number of different timescales and we do our work properly, as do the officials in the Ministry of Defence, to consider a whole range of alternatives, but unless the Committee would like me to set out all of the full range of alternatives, which would take a considerable amount of time, I do not think it is wise at this stage to concentrate on any one in particular.

  176. So I take it then that there has not been a focus on the timescale that would be needed for the X-band radar?
  (Mr Hoon) There has obviously been some discussion of a range of possible timescales, but no specific decision has been taken.


  177. I feel the same sense of frustration that the police must do in an interview with a recidivist!
  (Mr Hoon) I know that you are covered by parliamentary privilege, Chairman, but I do think that that is a slightly unfair comment.

  178. All I can say is that when the Americans do make the announcement, Secretary of State, please keep your diary free because we will re-interview you under normal police procedures as quickly as is possible so then you can retract almost everything you have said—
  (Mr Hoon) I have to say, Chairman, I do not recall being cautioned!

Mr Roy

  179. I move on from the American scenario to the United Kingdom scenario and the United Kingdom's thoughts and policies and positions. Could Russia and China, for example, see the introduction of an X-band radar with its ability to process many missiles at one time, do you think they could see that as a threat to their own nuclear strike capability, in your opinion?
  (Mr Hoon) If I can help, I will try and answer the question which I am sure you would like to ask which is about missile defence and its impact on Russia and China.

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