Strategic Defence Initiative

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th February 1987.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 12:00 am, 24th February 1987

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the implications for United Kingdom participation in the strategic defence initiative programme of any acceleration of deployment by the United States Administration.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

The United States Government have announced no decision to deploy defences against strategic ballistic missiles. The position remains, as agreed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Reagan at their Camp David meeting in December 1984, that strategic defence initiative-related deployment would, in view of treaty obligations, have to be a matter for negotiation. The United Kingdom Government continue to support the strategic defence initiative research programme and United Kingdom participation in it.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

What did the Secretary of State mean when he said that if our views were not taken into account we should have to consider what our action would be? Did he mean that if our views were not taken into account British participation in the SDI programme would be ended, and if not, why not?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I was asked what my reaction would be if I were told that the United States had some change in policy on SDI. I replied that we should have to wait and see what the proposals were before making such a comment.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any system such as SDI, developed by our friend and ally the United States, is a welcome contribution to future peace? Will he also welcome it in the context of the contribution that we in the United Kingdom are able to make and the jobs and technology that it brings to Britain?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Indeed, I should add that the United States and the Western Alliance would be deficient in their responsibilities if the Soviet Union were allowed to continue active research in that area without our having some security on our side from similar research.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley Central

Does the Minister think that research on SDI out of the laboratory will, despite the Soviet deployment of an anti-satellite system, be contrary to the ABM agreement?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is not for me or the British Government to interpret a treaty to which and to the negotiation of which we were not a party. It is, however, for the United Kingdom Government and for me to be concerned about the United States policy on the SDI programme and the effect that it might have on arms control negotiations. It is for that reason that I asked for and received last week in America an undertaking that if there were to be any substantial change in that policy we would be consulted before any such change were made.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexleyheath

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of how much money has come into Britain as a result of taking part in the research programme? Has he any idea of how many jobs are involved, and can he confirm that this gives us a chance to have a say in whether the scheme is implemented?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I cannot confirm precisely how many jobs are involved, but about $34 milion worth of business has come to Britain as a result of our participation in the SDI programme. It is worth recalling that if we had not taken part in the programme very little of that would have come to Britain and our best talents would probably have gone across the Atlantic to take part in the programme there.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

I accept that the Secretary of State acknowledges that we are not a signatory to the ABM treaty, but is it not incumbent upon the British Government to have a view as to whether that treaty should be interpreted narrowly, as many of the advocates in the United States suggest, or broadly, as the Reagan Government suggest?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

We have repeatedly made it clear, as has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that we are content with the United States Government's policy on the SDI programme — that is the definition that they are currently using. We have also had an assurance that, as I have said, if there were to be any change we would be consulted before it was made.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm what he is reported to have said in the United States—that the British Government would be opposed to any British participation in SDI programmes where those programmes went outside what is called the narrow interpretation of the treaty? If that is the case, does the memorandum of understanding, which was signed by the Government, contain such a proviso and obstacle?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

No, it does not contain any interpretations of the treaty. We believe in the treaty and we believe that it should be adhered to. It is for the two signatories to define how they see their own treaty.

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman has reported me as saying about our participation. I made it clear that we are content with the position as of now and that if there were to be any change in United States policy we should be concerned and would wish to be consulted before such a change was made.