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The Foreign Affairs Select Committee (FASC) has criticised the government for sneaking out plans to turn Menwith Hill into a missile tracking station for the United States' missile defence shield.

The decision was announced the day before the summer recess.

The committee noted that a written statement on 25 July announced that RAF Fylingdales would be ready to join the US ballistic missile defence system in August 2007 and that Menwith Hill would join too. It was agreed that the US would deploy equipment at Fylingdales in 2003, but there had been no discussion on Menwith Hill.

The committee complained that the government said on 4 June that discussions, on Menwith Hill, were at an early stage, but two months later the deal was done and dusted.

The FASC said: "We regret the manner and timing of the government's announcement that RAF Menwith Hill is to participate in the US ballistic missile defence (BMD) system... we recommend that the government inform us of the date on which it received the formal proposal from the US to include Menwith Hill in the BMD system. We recommend that there should be a full Parliamentary debate on these proposals."

The MoD sent us the following statement:

The government's overall approach to missile defence has not changed. Ministers have explained this position to the House on numerous occasions. In November 2002, the government published a public discussion document on missile defence. In 2003, upon receiving a request from the US to upgrade the missile-tracking radar at RAF Fylingdales, the government ensured that Parliament had the opportunity to debate the issue.

Despite the work at Menwith being minor in nature, the government made a written ministerial statement on the issue. This was done to ensure that Parliament had full visibility on all elements of this issue. It was also announced via an MoD press release. There was absolutely no intention to "bury" this announcement.

The controversial programme has been strongly criticised by Russia - although Putin and Bush are still discussing it. Poland's new government has also questioned the benefits of putting missile silos on its land.

The FASC second report is available here. ®

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