LEADING defence MPs are coming to North Yorkshire to assess the county's readiness amid growing tension over terrorism and a possible war against Iraq.

Westminster's powerful Defence Select Committee is to visit the army's brigade headquarters at Imphal Barracks, York, to check its preparedness to help out in the event of a UK terrorist attack.

The MPs want to probe the Army's contingency plans for dealing with a possible atrocity.

At the same time, members of the committee will visit RAF Fylingdales on the North York Moors following the U.S. request for it to be used for the Son of Star Wars missile defence system.

One of their tasks will be to examine claims by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon that the proposals will not make the base a target for terrorist attack.

He said during a visit to North Yorkshire earlier this week that, for the foreseeable future, countries of concern are unlikely to have the capability to target specific places or installations.

"Neither do we believe that there would be any change in the terrorist threat to Fylingdales."

The committee will publish a full report in the next few months, with its findings set to be scrutinised by Labour backbenches who have expressed grave concerns about the Son of Star Wars project.

During the visit, the select committee will also visit Catterick barracks as part of an investigation into Army training methods.

Officials have confirmed that the defence committee, led by Bruce George, will travel to the region later this month, but have not yet revealed the date.

Meanwhile, the campaign against a war with Iraq is growing in York with news that the high-profile anti-war MP, George Galloway, is to address a rallying meeting later this month.

York Against the War campaign spokesman Frank Ormston said the meeting, to be held at 7.30pm on Monday, January 20, at Le Meridien Hotel, next toYork station, will be aimed at rallying local opposition to any war before a major national demonstration in London next month.

"We wanted a big event, with a major speaker, to really launch the push for the big London demo," said Mr Ormston.

He claimed the possibility of military action in Iraq had seen an unprecedented level of protest, even before any bombs had been dropped.

He added: "We are still hopeful that war can be avoided, and I am sure the previous big demos have had an impact.

"I expect the level of protest to intensify if and when any military action starts."

Meanwhile, York Students Against the War is staging a peace gig at city rock venue Fibbers on Friday.

On the bill are Ideal Standard and 23 Beasts, student bands from York University, and Ryan Shirlow, a York-based songwriter.

The gig has been organised by YorkSAW to raise funds to support the National Demonstration Against War on Iraq in London on February 15.

Sam Southgate, of YorkSAW, said: "The anti-war movement in York is getting stronger by the day, and we hope to take over 300 York students to the national protest in London."

Doors for the gig open at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £4.

Updated: 11:56 Wednesday, January 08, 2003