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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. As I said in my speech, if he reads it carefully, we are concerned about how the Government reached that decision. We do not think that they needed to reach it with such haste. We had hoped that there would be a great deal more debate. We are not opposed to a missile defence system and have not said that we oppose it; we just wish that there had been more debate about the implications before we moved forward. We may well support missile defence and the decision at this stage; we are just concerned about the implications for the future.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, but it must be me. I still do not know whether that is a yes or no about whether the Liberal Democrats support the Government's decision. That is probably the best answer I shall receive, but I still do not know whether they support the Government's decision to agree to the United States request for an upgrade of Fylingdales or not. From what their spokesman in another place said, it is impossible to tell. Having heard the debate today, I still do not know. It is quite important that the electorate should know.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the system is unproven in the United States. The decision to deploy missiles in Alaska has been criticised by many in the US Congress, because the system is still experimental. Our case is that it is unnecessary at this stage for the British Government to give such a rapid reply. There is room for debateespecially about the multilateral framework within which we should have replied.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that I am still none the wiser as to whether the answer is yes or no to that government decision. As a serious political party, it is my view that the Liberal Democrats should tell us. This is a perfect debate for them to do so. I take the view that they have declined to do so.
I begin with the position that we have reached. Back in October, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence set out the Government's thinking on the development of ballistic missile defence systems and called for debate on how missile defences might be relevant to the United Kingdom's own strategy for dealing with the potential threat from ballistic missiles.
We have been criticised about timetables. That criticism is completely unjustified. On 9th December the Ministry of Defence published a discussion paper to inform the policy debate. On 17th December we received the request from the United States
The Government were keen to encourage people to make their views known: in Parliament, where there were opportunities for debate on 15th and 22nd January; in two public meetings attended by the Defence Secretary in North Yorkshire on 6th January; in a large number of letters and e-mails to the Ministry of Defence; and through the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. The committee's report, which has been referred to tonight, was published on 29th January. It recommended that the United Kingdom should agree to the upgrade. It, at least, was decisive.
Once the Government were confident that they had taken all the views and arguments into account, we were able to come to a final decision. The fundamental test was whether the upgrade would ultimately enhance the security of the United Kingdom and the NATO alliance. It does so by providing the opportunity in future to defend our country and the European continent against the increasing threat from ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. Those missiles do not, we believe, present an immediate threat to the United Kingdom population. But it would be an irresponsible government who could claim that such a threat would never develop. RAF Fylingdales would be a crucial building block on which protection for this country could be acquired. Therefore, as I informed noble Lords on 5th February, we have now replied to the United States Government agreeing to their request.
We have debated today the policy implications of that decision. The most important point is that the upgrade of RAF Fylingdales does not imply any commitment to greater participation in the US missile defence system. The US has not requested the basing of interceptors in the UK; nor has it any plans to site an X-band radar in this country.
The United States has, however, offered to extend missile defence coverage to the UK as the evolution of the system permits and subject to appropriate political and financial arrangements. At the appropriate time, the Government will need to consider whether we wish to acquire missile defence capabilities for the United Kingdom. That would involve broad consideration of the strategic circumstances of the time, including an analysis of how the threat is developing and the technological solutions available, and an assessment of the approach that offers best value for money. The insight that the Government and industry will have of the US programme will be of great benefit in informing that analysis. But that would be a discrete decision some way downstream.
I shall now outline the implications for RAF Fylingdales. Visitors to the station are often astonished to discover that it is controlled and staffed entirely by the Royal Air Force. The only US military presence at the base is a single liaison officer. I emphasise again that Fylingdales is a British base. It will continue to be controlled by the UK. Operational
Noble Lords will be aware that the upgrade involves no new development, no expansion of the base and no changes to the radar's external appearance. The power output of the radar is also unaffected. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, the upgrade essentially involves the modification of computer hardware and software within the base. When a ballistic missile is launched, the upgraded radar will be able to track the incoming missile accurately enough to enable it to be intercepted. Other than in that extreme circumstance, the radar will be in missile defence mode only for brief testing periods. The UK will have access to the data generated during those periods as well.
I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, whose expertise in environmental matters is well known throughout the House, that the Ministry of Defence has been in close touch with the North York Moors National Park Authority about the upgrade, as I think she knows. It is preparing for the planning authorities a detailed report that will include environmental and health issues. But I am afraid that the noble Baroness is wrong in what she says is envisaged for Fylingdales. It is not a change of use. The radar will continue to play a crucial role for Britain as an early warning radar. Its missile defence role would be used only to track a real incoming missile or for training for around a few hours a year. Nor is it a major development. Indeed, there is no development work at all. It is, frankly, a computer upgrade.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, commented on leasing arrangements for both Fylingdales and Menwith Hill. I am grateful to him for referring to my recent letter to him. I shall try to make the position as clear as possible. As he said, there is no lease for RAF Fylingdales. The base is not made available to the United States visiting forces (USVF). It is, and will continue to be, commanded and operated by the RAF. The United States visiting forces have never been granted a lease to occupy RAF Menwith Hill, which is a joint US/UK base. The presence of the USVF at RAF Menwith Hill is governed by the NATO SOFAthe Status of Forces Agreement 1951. There are additional confidential government-to-government arrangements covering administrative matters. But before noble Lords get too excited about that, it is not peculiar or special to Menwith Hill. It exists at all USVF bases in the United Kingdom.
In 1955 and again in 1976, in order to facilitate the commitment of funding by the US Congress for investment in the base, the US authorities were assured of security of tenure at Menwith Hill for a period of 21 years. The arrangements were an administrative mechanism, were not legally binding and did not
Menwith Hill has nothing to do with missile defence. In 1997 the US no longer required the security of tenure assurances that we had provided in the past so that Congress investment could be secured, so they were allowed to expire. I have taken a little time on that matter, as I know that the noble Lord has a considerable interest in it. He deserves an answer to the points he made.
Some noble Lords referred to strategic implications. The decision has no major strategic impact. It is hard to argue that it changes fundamentally the relationship between this country and the United States, two countries whose security interests have been closely intertwined for many years. Nor does it affect strategic relations with Russia and China. China has expressed some concerns, and both countries have given measured reactions to the development of missile defence. I need hardly point out that the United States and Russia are involved in an active process of dialogue to explore the possibilities for co-operation on missile defence systems.
The upgrade does not alter the strategic importance of Fylingdales as part of our ballistic missile early warning system. It will enable the United States to intercept a ballistic missile fired by a state of concern at its territory. I cannot believe that anyone would want such a missile to land.
Of course, should we so decide, Fylingdales would also in the future be able to help defend the UK and Europe, provided that it was linked to interceptors based in Europe. I have emphasised that that is a decision for the future, but perhaps it is worth briefly considering some of the issues surrounding the prospect of missile defences for this country, an issue that noble Lords have raised.
We already have a wide and comprehensive strategy to deal with the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. It includes a wide range of measures, from non-proliferation and counter-proliferation to intelligence co-operation; and from law enforcement and conflict prevention to diplomacy and deterrence. All those will remain crucial elements of the UK's response to proliferation. For example, the UK took a lead in instigating the creation of the new Hague code of conduct against ballistic missile proliferation, a politically binding code to which more than 100 countries have already subscribed.
There can be no guarantee that that wide range of measures will be 100 per cent effective. If, at some point, a ballistic missile is launched at this country, there will be nothing more that co-operation and conflict prevention can do. The only means of preventing catastrophedefending this country and its peopleis shooting that missile down. If noble Lords will forgive me for stating the obvious, I must say that that is all that missile defence can do. It is not for killing people. It is not for threatening other countries. It cannot even attack military targets. The
We should be in no doubt about the existence of that threat. The noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, referred to it. It is a huge threat to our security. It is often said that threat is a combination of capability and intent. North Korea may be a single flight test away from confirming her ability to reach Europe and the United States with a ballistic missile. Iraq has already shown intent to use weapons of mass destruction and to fire ballistic missiles at its enemies. We must not ignore the evidence.
Why do those countries and othersoften with a desperately poor population to feedchoose to spend their resources on such weapons? There are two reasons. The first is that they seek to hold other states to ransom by threatening the delivery of weapons of mass destruction. The second is that they seek to export missile technology to other countries trying to acquire such capabilities. It is not exaggerating to say that the danger is spreading. We cannot just wait for a direct threat to the UK to emerge, before exploring what we might do to defend ourselves against such a threat of devastation.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made some remarks about a left-of-centre British government and a right-wing Republican American administration. In putting the argument that way, the noble Lord forgets that, as far as concerns missile defence, the previous administration, led by President Clinton, who could not, by anyone's definition, be described as a right-wing Republican, took almost precisely the same view as the present Administration. Indeed, in some regards on space he may even have taken a different and more hardline attitude. Therefore, I do not believe that it helps the argument to compare governments of whatever political persuasion.
The question is: is there a real problem herea real threat? The answer of Her Majesty's Government is that there is. It is not just the United States and the UK who face that increasing threat. All our NATO allies recognise the potential threat from weapons of mass destruction.
On a number of occasions the United States has made plain its willingness to extend protection to friends and allies. NATO heads of state and government agreed at the Prague summit, an important decision, to examine ways to address the increasing threat posed by ballistic missile proliferationnot just ballistic theatre missiles, but ballistic missiles that would attack homelandsand initiated a new missile defence feasibility study in that regard.
I hope that this part of my argument will appeal to the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. The Government strongly support this work within NATO. In agreeing to upgrade Fylingdales, we have opened the possibility of this radar being the foundation of a missile defence system protecting the whole of Europe.
I want to conclude by providing noble Lords with more detail on the industrial implications of our decision. British industryrather cavalierly dealt with in one or two speeches todayhas been involved alongside the United States in research on missile defence since 1985. Industrial opportunities for UK companies will now increase, with the United States looking to bring in the expertise of a wider "international team" as its programme expands. British companies, large and small, as well as universities and research centres, have an excellent opportunity to contribute to the international effort. We are playing a major part in facilitating that.
We are negotiating a new memorandum of understanding with the United States to allow a proper two-way exchange of technical information with the UK. That is very important, not just in this field but in the wider one too. We are establishing a new missile defence centre which will form the main vehicle for bilateral discussions with the United States. It is proposed that the missile defence centre will be jointly funded by government and UK industry. Through it we shall seek to understand the missile defence architectures being developed for the defence of Europe and to influence the emerging concepts to our advantage.
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