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Unidentified Flying Objects

Volume 813: debated on Wednesday 30 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, published on 25 June; and what data they hold on unidentified flying object sightings in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence notes the content of the report. The department holds no reports on unidentified aerial phenomena but constantly monitors UK airspace to identify and respond to any credible threat to its integrity, and is confident in the existing measures in place to protect it.

My Lords, for decades, people who have been concerned with UFOs have been dismissed as fantasists, but now the US Director of National Intelligence, who oversees 17 intelligence agencies, has published a report saying that the data on UFOs is inconclusive. The report offers several possible explanations and does not rule out that these could be military aircraft with very advanced capabilities or even extraterrestrial phenomena. Either way, can the Minister reassure members of the public that the Ministry of Defence takes reports of unidentified flying objects in our airspace very seriously? Will she consider publishing a detailed assessment of the data that we hold?

The MoD deals with actual threats substantiated by evidence. The Government continue to take any potential threat to the UK seriously. The integrated review and the defence Command Paper published in March set out the MoD’s assessment of the threats we face and how we will meet them.

My Lords, unidentified does not mean suspicious. Does the Minister recognise that the US report referred to says that there is no clear indication that there is any non-terrestrial explanation for the 144 sightings that it specifies? The idea that, in an era of mobile phone cameras, drones and frequent travel, there could possibly be alien spaceships whizzing about undetected in our atmosphere on a regular basis is not very plausible. It is much more likely that these blurred images have boring explanations, alas. Does my noble friend agree?

The important point, on which I wish to reassure your Lordships, is that the UK air defence community detects and monitors all flying air systems 24 hours a day to provide an identified air picture as part of the UK’s national security posture and our commitment to the integrity of NATO airspace. That is supported by Typhoon aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby, which are held at high readiness to intercept any threat to UK airspace.

My Lords, in 2008 the MoD began the process of releasing all its UFO files. In 2009 Sir Bob Ainsworth, the Secretary of State, accepted the advice that:

“In more than 50 years, no UFO sighting … has indicated the existence of any military threat to the UK; there is no defence benefit in … recording, collating, analysing, or investigating UFO sightings”


“the level of resources devoted to this task is … diverting staff from more valuable defence-related activities”,

and he closed the relevant unit. Does the US report reveal any evidence containing any reason to review that advice?

I simply say to the noble Lord that I seek to reassure him that, as I have indicated, we deal with actual threats substantiated by evidence. He is quite right about the closure of the UFO desk in 2009. I can confirm that the department holds no reports on unidentified aerial phenomena and that all relevant material created and held by the UFO desk has been passed to the National Archives.

My Lords, turning to identifiable flying objects, does my noble friend agree that the UK has a tremendous opportunity to develop its new space industry, not least in low-earth orbit, in the build, development, launch, operation, recovery and rebuild of small satellites for both positive-purpose defence and civil opportunities?

My noble friend makes an important point with which I entirely agree. That is clearly an area of exciting future development for the UK Government.

Given the subject, it is very reassuring to see the Minister here physically, not beamed in. The Pentagon has said that unidentified aerial phenomena are a serious national security threat. Notwithstanding what she has just said, does the Minister agree with the Pentagon’s analysis of the threat from unidentified aerial phenomena? Is the UK therefore suffering from a threat similar to that identified by the US? Given that the MoD abandoned its UFO desk in 2009, where are such sightings to be reported and to whom? The truth is out there and, we hope, in the Minister’s answer.

I endeavour to provide veracity to this Chamber on all occasions. Again, the underlying important point is the security of our airspace. I have already indicated how we address that potential threat and how we are well sustained and well provided to deal with any such potential threat. However, we regard threats as having to exist in the first place and to be substantiated by evidence because we need to know what we are addressing and how best we can address it. We are of course aware of the US assessment. The MoD has no plans to conduct its own report into UAP because, in over 50 years, no such reporting indicated the existence of any military threat to the UK.

The recent report from the United States task force dedicated to investigating UFOs has neither confirmed nor rejected the idea that such sightings could indicate alien visits to earth. I believe that Cardiff Bay is the alleged location of the Torchwood Institute, set up to deal with incidents of extraterrestrials. Indeed, the Ianto Jones shrine forms part of the tourist trail at Mermaid Quay. Seven decades after unidentified aerial phenomena first appeared on the radar, defence ministries around the world ought to know what they are. The recent report does not require us to accept the reality of alien visitation, but it does require us to take UFOs seriously. Therefore, how seriously do Her Majesty’s Government now take UFOs in the light of this report?

I refer the noble Baroness to my previous answers. The short response is “very seriously”—in relation to addressing threats where those threats are identifiable and can be substantiated.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the role that one of the largest single-dish telescopes in the southern hemisphere—in Parkes, New South Wales, the place of my birth—played in transmitting the TV footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing? More recently, it tracked NASA’s Curiosity rover during its descent over the surface of Mars in 2012. Might it be of assistance to the Government in helping to modify, monitor and assist any unidentified sightings?

I would say to my noble friend that the MoD and particularly our air defence community have the most sophisticated electronic surveillance. I myself witnessed how this operated when I visited RAF Coningsby. There is also the added support of visual identification, if that is thought to be necessary, by alerting a rapid reaction from our Typhoons, which are able to take on a visual inspection if there is any doubt about the nature or character of an alleged threat.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to read the report and the frankness with which it was written. Have the report’s contents yet been raised by Her Majesty’s Government with representatives of the United States Government? The Minister has said that our Government have no reports on this matter, but given the interest that it has generated around the world—and, indeed, perhaps other worlds—do Her Majesty’s Government now have plans to produce a similar document summarising any recent UAP or UFO sightings within UK borders and overseas territories?

As I indicated earlier, we have no opinion on the existence of extraterrestrial life and we no longer investigate reports of sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena. We have no plans to conduct our own report into UAP, because in over 50 years no such reporting has indicated the existence of any military threat to the UK.