Labour refuses to debate US missile scheme

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Indy Politics

Labour leaders have rejected demands for a debate on President George Bush's "son of Star Wars" programme at the party's annual conference.

The move has angered grassroots Labour activists, who said yesterday that the refusal was designed to avoid embarrassing Tony Blair over his support for the National Missile Defence system.

Seventeen local parties submitted emergency motions calling for a debate. More were sent in by parties who felt the attacks in the United States exposed the "futility" of Mr Bush's plan.

But Labour's conference arrangements committee has ruled out a special debate, saying the motions are not urgent because there has been no change in America's policy.

Charles Clarke, the Labour chairman, said the issue had been judged as "not appropriate" for discussion. However, it could be raised during a debate on Tuesday about the international situation, he said.

Activists will protest against the ruling when the Brighton conference begins tomorrow. They are also worried that policy documents to be presented to the conference suggest the Government is warming to the missile defence programme. The reports drop Labour's previous support for the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, from which Mr Bush wants to withdraw.

Alice Mahon, Labour MP for Halifax, whose local party has submitted one of the motions, said: "As America's closest ally, we have a duty to tell them when they are wrong and to change their policies. Gagging MPs and constituency Labour parties shows a complete lack of common sense and will simply isolate the leadership of our party from its grassroots."

Anti-capitalist protesters are expected to demonstrate against military action in Afghanistan in Brighton tomorrow. The Green Party, co-sponsor of the protest, said it could draw up to 10,000 people.

Intense security is expected in Brighton because most cabinet ministers will be attending. Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, will address the conference on Monday.