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Missile Defence

Volume 407: debated on Monday 23 June 2003

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What recent discussions he has had with the Governments of (a) Canada and (b) Denmark about UK policy on strategic missile defence. [120547]

I discussed a number of issues, including missile defence, with my Danish counterpart in Copenhagen on 8 April. I have had no recent discussions on missile defence with my Canadian counterpart.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern that is being expressed by people in Denmark and around RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire about the environmental consequences of missile defence, especially the medical consequences of phased-array radar, which have been widely reported in the local media in Yorkshire and on the BBC's "Look North"? Can my right hon. Friend tell me what advice he has sought from the National Radiological Protection Board about those risks and what advice he can give to people in North Yorkshire about their nature?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I am aware of the claims to which he refers. We have not seen any evidence that phased-array radar emissions at levels below those considered safe by the relevant scientific and medical authorities can harm the health of human beings or livestock. The claims are apparently based on material emanating from the United States, and we await the results of studies being made there. However, the weight of current scientific and medical evidence does not in any way support those claims.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it makes better sense to have a missile defence system in place in an era in which we are concerned about rogue regimes with potentially small numbers of missiles than it might have done during a cold war confrontation when we were dealing with a superpower with very large numbers of missiles? When he discusses these important issues with our NATO allies, what consideration does he give to the financing of any such project in the future? Is it a question of discussing with them how best to co-operate with our American allies on a project that they will finance, or would we have to make a significant financial contribution—and if so, could we afford to do so?

We have not come to any specific decisions on whether to pursue missile defence for the United Kingdom, but at the Prague summit last November, all our NATO allies clearly demonstrated that we were committed to examining options to address the increasing missile threat. The question of finance has not yet been specifically addressed, and it need not be until there is agreement as to how to go forward in this area. We have, however, been able to agree a framework memorandum of understanding with the United States, which sets out the guiding principles governing co-operation between the United States and the United Kingdom on missile defence. Obviously, one of the aspects that we have to consider further is the cost, and who should meet that cost.