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Column 1215of a resolution of the Cyprus problem. That is a process in which Britain is honour bound to play a full and major part.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis): I join other Members who have spoken in the debate in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on gaining the debate in what is, I think, historically the last of these occasions in quite this form. I also congratulate him on his determination and perseverance on the issue of Cyprus over some time.
I shall endeavour to answer all the questions asked by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ms Quin), but I shall not resolve all the problems of Cyprus this evening. I have sympathy with her about her cold--we share the House of Commons virus this evening.
Cyprus is important to the United Kingdom. Our countries are bound, as we have heard, by a shared history and personalities and common political interests. Our common history gives us shared values and outlooks, and we are bound together in the Commonwealth. Cyprus is one of the major British tourist destinations, and the integration of Cypriots in Britain-- especially here in London--proves the closeness of the relationship. It is also fair to say that our two sovereign bases in Cyprus are strategically important to Britain, as was demonstrated clearly during the Gulf war.
Those connections mean that the estrangement of the two communities which lead to the events of 1974 was viewed with great distress in the United Kingdom. We do believe that the division of Cyprus since 1974 is unacceptable, and any subsequent settlement cannot be based on division. The passage of time will not, as some hope, lead us to accept it.
What are we and the international community doing to solve the apparently intractable problem? We have always supported the effort of the UN Secretary-General to broker a settlement. I should like briefly to set out the course of his efforts this year. At times this year progress seemed close--as the hon. Lady intimated earlier--but at other times it seemed much more distant.
Last year, President Klerides accepted a package of
confidence-building measures proposed by the UN Secretary-General. We thought that the package was an excellent basis for getting talks going. We were therefore disappointed that Mr. Denktash was not able to match President Klerides's acceptance, and did not return to New York to continue negotiations.
Sadly, as the UN Secretary-General concluded in his report to the Security Council on 30 May, the Turkish Cypriot side had not demonstrated sufficient political will to secure agreement on the implementation of the package of confidence building measures. The Secretary-General's report of 30 May was in itself an important development. It encouraged Mr. Denktash, with some prompting from Turkey, the UN, the United States and the UK, to shift his position. He moved far enough for the Secretary-General to conclude in his letter to the President of the Security Council on 28 June that there was a substantial measure of agreement on the substance of the package, and that he was prepared to recommend its acceptance.
Column 1216The letter demonstrated how close the two sides had come to agreement. We should not lose sight of that. We strongly believe that the potential benefits, both in real economic terms and more importantly in terms of intercommunal contact and confidence building, are so great that further effort is worth while. That is not the view of the United Kingdom alone; it is shared by the whole Security Council.
We think that building up confidence is essential if a lasting settlement is to be achieved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South said, there were once extensive and friendly day-to-day contacts between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. Now a generation has grown up on each side of the divide, suspicious of, but knowing little of, the other community.
On 29 July, the UN Security Council responded to the developments which I outlined by passing resolution 939. The resolution called for further work on confidence-building measures, and also included language on the overall approach. It called for reflection on other ways of making progress towards a settlement.
I see the resolution as an opportunity for the communities to reaffirm their commitment to essential central principles for a settlement. The Secretary-General gave effect to the second aspect of resolution 939 by inviting the two community leaders to talks with his representative in Cyprus. Those discussions took place between 18 and 31 October. We welcome that approach.
The hon. Member for Gateshead asked me about the action plan of those two communities. She is right to say that that was not forthcoming, but the Secretary-General is preparing a report, including an action plan. He is continuing to pursue his activities on that front.
No progress was made, regrettably, at the round of talks in October. Both leaders sought to press their own agenda and there was little overlap. Mr. Denktash did reaffirm his commitment, however, to a bizonal, bi-communal federation, as called for by the UN. He has subsequently emphasised that in a letter to the Secretary-General. President Klerides had some useful and positive ideas relating to future constitutional arrangements. The UN is continuing its own discussions with the two leaders with a view to establishing a common basis for further discussions. We support that and hope that it will be possible to restart direct talks soon.
I have described our view of where things stand, but what of our approach? We want to help to bring about a settlement: there is no other agenda. The overriding consideration is that we should support the good offices mission of the UN Secretary-General, set up following UN Security Council resolution 367 in March 1975. Our status as a guarantor power, however, means that we try to do more, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South correctly pointed out. We aim to complement as well as to support Mr. Boutros-Ghali's mission, while sticking, of course, to the UN framework.
I should make it clear that we are not in the business of prescribing the details of a settlement. In our view, a settlement must meet the interests of both communities and have their agreement. The history of the dispute, and others, shows that a settlement imposed without such an
Column 1217agreement will not last. We consider, however, that the UN Secretary-General's set of ideas, first proposed in 1992, provide a good basis for settlement.
Mr. Cox: I am one of the United Kingdom delegates to the Council of Europe. Lord Finsberg--we all know that he was a Member of the House for many years--serves on the Political Affairs Committee of the Council. He has prepared the Finsberg report on Cyprus, which will be presented at the next major session of the Council at the end of January 1995. Will we get clear outline of the Government's opinion on that report before it is presented to the Council? I have met President Klerides to discuss the report and I know that the Greek Cypriots are unhappy about many aspects of it. We need some clarification of the Government's opinion of that report, which has been prepared by a member of the United Kingdom parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe.
Mr. Davis: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an instant answer. Matters will develop in January, because other issues are in play. We are not talking about a settlement between two separate countries divided by a border. We want a settlement that will allow the communities to live side by side on a small island, in the same federal state, in peace. That can be achieved only with their agreement and when the two communities feel that the terms of the settlement will guarantee their future safety and interests. Bullying will not work.
I stress that there is no question of our recognising the so-called Turkish republic of northern Cyprus--not now, not in the future. If we are to be effective in encouraging a settlement, however, we must speak to both communities. Refusal to deal with one community would make it less willing to deal. It would make a settlement harder to achieve. We therefore maintain contact with Mr. Denktash and others who are prominent in the Turkish Cypriot community. Our sole aim in doing so is to encourage the Turkish Cypriot community to move towards a settlement. We are determined that those contacts should continue.
We also want to promote contact between the communities. Our high commissioner in Nicosia, and, indeed, some members of those communities, try to promote that contact. They need encouragement, not criticism for doing so. That is crucial. Those who criticise such contacts undermine the chances of an approach agreed by both sides. The logical extension of criticising contacts with one or other side is that a solution should be imposed against the will of one community. I have always said that an imposed solution will not work.
We see our role as encouraging the two communities to move towards a settlement, by persuading and encouraging them and the other guarantor powers, and fostering the right environment for negotiations. Our substantial diplomatic effort and intensive contacts play a part in this process. That effort is supported by our contribution to the UN force in Cyprus, known as UNFICYP. The force has a mandate to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order, and a return to normal conditions. It plays an important part in creating the stability and security that are necessary for a settlement. We have played a major role in UNFICYP through thick and thin. We believe that our
Column 1218commitment--one of successive Governments and successive generations of British taxpayers--has been an important factor in securing the success of the United Nations military operation in Cyprus. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South and others have talked about European Union accession. We share the hope that the prospect will bring the communities together. Perhaps I should set out our approach. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) hit the point rather well.
We support membership of the Community for those European countries that want to join and can meet all the conditions of membership. Cyprus applied to join the European Union in July 1990. The European Commission submitted its opinion on the application of Cyprus in June 1993. The opinion confirmed the European identity and character of Cyprus and its vocation to belong to the Union.
The opinion recognised the difficulties of accession ahead of an intercommunal settlement. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said:
We want to remove those difficulties; we want to see Cyprus admitted. That is one reason . . . why we, perhaps more than any other country, are working . . . hard to find a solution . . . Our attitude is a positive one- -to remove the obstacles to the accession of Cyprus."--[ Official Report , 11 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 702.] The Commission has considered developments in the intercommunal talks. It has decided to review the question of the accession of Cyprus to the Community next month--January. At the European Council at Corfu in June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agreed conclusions which noted that
"the next phase of enlargement would involve Cyprus".
That approach was reaffirmed at Essen with our support. It is too early to talk about precise dates for accession, or for the opening of negotiations about it, but that does not discriminate against Cyprus.
It is too early to talk about dates for any of the countries involved in the next phase of enlargement, which will not take place before the intergovernmental conference, which starts in 1996, has reached a conclusion. Even though there are difficulties, it is important to emphasise that neither Mr. Denktash nor anyone else has a veto over Cyprus's application. The Commission opinion was carefully drafted on this point.
We should be wary, however, of seeing the prospect of membership as a panacea. We cannot ignore Turkish Cypriot concerns about the prospect of Cypriot membership of the European Union. Some Turkish Cypriots question the validity of the application. Others are concerned that the terms of membership might conflict with elements of a settlement that they regard as essential. Others worry about its effect on their relationship with Turkey. In our view--again, I take up a point raised by the hon. Member for Tooting --the EU has much to offer both communities. Membership of the EU is not something that either community should fear. We are encouraging Turkish Cypriots to think hard about the benefits of EU membership.
The solution to the Cyprus problem lies in the hands of the communities themselves. It is not in the power of the UK or the EU, or the UN, to force a workable solution in Cyprus on those who live there. Progress can be made only with the full backing of both communities. Agreement depends on the will of the two communities, helped and guided by their friends. I know that that will
Column 1219has often been lacking, but that is no reason not to continue probing persuading and encouraging. The status quo is no solution. 1.43 am
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green): I apologise to the House for arriving now and being unable to hear the speeches of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), my other colleagues and the Minister. We were expecting the debate to take place somewhat later, but I understand that matters have progressed rather rapidly. I am delighted that we have had an opportunity--I was going to say this evening, but I perhaps should say this night or this morning--to debate Cyprus, which all of us who are in the Chamber tonight will agree is one of the outstanding issues in the world that need to be resolved.
The debate takes place against a background of great sadness for the Cypriot community in this country, in that this week, sadly, the death occurred of Dr. Homer Habibis, who was one of the leading figures in the Cypriot community in Britain for many years. He was a great man, whose qualities as a community leader, a professional man and a doctor were widely respected. He is mourned, not only by the Cypriot community but by his many friends in Britain, and especially by all those people who support the cause of Cyprus. He will be greatly missed.
This week, a tremendous reception was held in the House, hosted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who is in his place this evening, and attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin), who speaks on foreign affairs from the Opposition Front Bench. That reception, which was a timely reminder, was about and for an association of organisations for refugees.
Many Cypriots came to this country as a result of the invasion and the continuing occupation of 1974. When we discuss Cyprus, we should always speak of the events in 1974 as an invasion. They were not an intervention but an invasion, and what has happened is a continuing occupation. It is very important that we speak in those terms.
My hon. Friend mentioned refugees. Does she agree that, in the Greek Cypriot community, there is what I would call a "gut feeling" that a settlement should allow people, for example, from Morphou, to return to their homes if they so wish? The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) has repeatedly referred to Verosha--Famagusta--but there is also Kyrenia.
I congratulate the Minister on the constructiveness of his speech, but we must be able tell both communities in a settlement that they will have the right to move anywhere, and live anywhere, on the island of Cyprus. I am sure that the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) and the hon.
Column 1220Member for Hendon, South will accept that, unless we can say that, we shall be unable to surmount an enormous hurdle.
It is an absolute right that refugees should be able to return to their home. Many members of the Cypriot community have come to this country, and very many people who remain in Cyprus are refugees in their own island-- their own country. One of the reasons is that the democratic republic of Cyprus has been extremely successful in building a vibrant modern economy, and it has managed to deal with its refugees extremely well. There are no refugee camps or anything of that nature. Therefore, people often ask why the refugees want to return to their homes. The answer is simple: for all those refugees, the place where their fathers and mothers, grandparents and great grandparents lived has tremendous historical and emotional significance.
Many Cypriots cannot return to their homes or visit family homes or graveyards. One of the terrible things that has happened in the illegally occupied area of the north has been the complete destruction and desecration of places of religious significance which also have great significance to western culture. That is extremely dangerous to the cultural map of a place that is essentially part of Europe. We must take that seriously in all our arguments. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting mentioned Morphou. Like him, I have been to the Morphou rally which every year is a focus for the refugee community for the whole island. People gather for a demonstration which is extremely moving. I have marched with them. One can see the occupied area. First, there is the United Nations buffer zone and then people can see their land. I have been there with Cypriots who have pointed their houses out to me. They can smell and see their orange groves. The feeling is so apparent that no one can remain untouched by what they see and experience.
The last time that I went to Morphou was with a number of hon. Members. I was met at the airport by the mayor of Morphou, who extended very pleasant greetings. He said something that had tremendous significance for me. He said that one day he would meet me at the airport and take me not to Nicosia but to his home in Morphou. That was his dream and that was very important to him.
There are a couple more issues of which we should never lose sight. The first is the fate of the missing people, those people of whom we have heard nothing since 1974. I am sure that much reference has already been made to those people in the House. I have constituents who have not seen or heard of their relatives since 1974. Each time I go to the Morphou rally, I am met by the same elderly lady who shows me a wonderful photograph of her handsome young son whom she has not seen since those terrible events in 1974. That is something that we must keep dear to our hearts.
We must also realise what it means to the Cypriot people to have what is basically an occupying force in their own land. In addition, settlers have come into the occupied areas quite illegally. We must bear that in mind when we discuss the issue. We have a tremendous opportunity in the House to give Cyprus a pledge that Britain and the British Government will support Cyprus's application to join the European Union.
Column 1221I caught only the last of the Minister's remarks when he spoke about the solution to the Cyprus problem being in the hands of the two communities. But, with respect, if one goes down that road, one is entering dangerous territory. It is a great mistake to view the Cyprus conflict as one between two different communities. It must not be viewed in that way. The Cyprus conflict is clear. It is a conflict between a democratic country which is a member of the United Nations and the Commonwealth and an illegal regime which is recognised by no one except Turkey.
Britain, as a guarantor power, has a unique role to play, especially through its relationship with the United States--a country that could do much good in the region. Also, as a guarantor power, Britain could have tremendous influence in pressing Cyprus's case. I say in all sincerity to the Minister that if the Government are concerned about finding a solution to the Cyprus problem, the best action they could take would be to hasten Cyprus's admission to the European Union. That is where it belongs; if it were a member, it would be impossible for Cyprus to remain divided.
Cyprus is a thriving country with a tremendous amount to offer Europe. It has a marvellous heritage and a marvellous people with a variety of talents, skills and ability. We must solve the problem of the continuing scandal of that divided island. It is an outrage that, as 1994 draws to a close, a year in which we have solved so many of the world's outstanding problems, we still have not solved the Cyprus problem. The blame for that must be firmly placed on Mr. Denktas and his illegal regime and on the Turkish Government for not ensuring that proper pressure is applied. We can look for Turkey's motives in that. We must make it clear to Turkey that we disapprove of not only what is happening in Cyprus but its appalling human rights record. Let us talk not about an intra-communal dispute in Cyprus but about Mr. Denktas, his illegal regime and the way that he has blocked any constructive moves. Let us say that in 1995 we will do all that we can to ensure that there is a just and lasting solution to Cyprus.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I wish to put on record my gratitude to Madam Speaker for arranging for at least an airing of this matter in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. I had hoped that the Government would raise it in Government time, at a slightly more popular hour, but perhaps it is more fitting that it should go through the House in the dead of night.
I am disappointed with the way in which the extension of the mutual defence agreement has been handled and I want to mention some of the features of the debate--or non-debate--about it. Had the Government had their way, the agreement would have passed us by without any debate. It was laid formally on the Table on 21 October and, under the Ponsonby rules, would have been left there for 21 working days and then ratified without debate in the House.
Although the draft agreement laid by the Government was brief, half-way down the front page it said that the agreement had already passed through the American Congress on 23 May 1994. A number of hon. Members have already questioned why the matter has been delayed in Britain until now. The explanation lies somewhere between cock-up and contempt. The cock-up part of the explanation is, I am told, that the agreement was lost somewhere within the Foreign Office. Fairly late in the proceedings it was hastily retrieved from the other side of the Atlantic.
I should also point out that, among the other points of difference in the way in which the matter was processed, was the fact that when the agreement went through Congress it had been laid before both the Congress and the Senate for 60 days. That certainly has not been the case in the United Kingdom Parliament.
The agreement expires at the end of this month. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we do not have much longer to wait before this part of this Session of Parliament finishes. It would be extremely embarrassing, although not fatal for its renewal, if the agreement were not signed before it expired and had to be re-signed as a renegotiated agreement. However, that has not happened. I picked the matter up only on the last day on which, under the Ponsonby rules, the agreement was formally to lie to on the Table.
I had an interesting time trying to get copies of the original agreement. I found that it was much easier to get access to it through sources in the United States. For the record, we ought to recognise what the agreement sets out. The formal title is: "An agreement for the co-operation in the uses of atomic energy for atomic energy for mutual defence purposes."
It commits both the United States and the United Kingdom to communicate and exchange information and transfer materials and equipment to the other party for their mutual defence and security. There is specific focus on the nuclear arms programme. The agreement refers to the exchange of information, which would include "classified information, sensitive nuclear technology and controlled nuclear information, as is jointly determined to be necessary".
It covers the "development of defence plans", the
Column 1223"training of personnel in the employment of atomic weapons and defence against them, other military applications of atomic energy . . . the development of delivery systems compatible with those atomic weapons and research, development and design of military reactors". There is fairly comprehensive coverage of the areas in which exchange of information and personnel will take place. It is difficult, though, to find out the implications of the agreement. In fact, it has been extremely difficult and well nigh impossible in some cases, for Parliament to find out anything about it since it was originally signed in 1958.
I was intrigued by the use of the Ponsonby rule. Perhaps I can clarify how and why it has been used. The Minister replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on 30 November, simply formally recording that the 1994 amendment was laid before Parliament on 21 October and that the Ponsonby rule required it to remain there for 21 days before it could be ratified.
The normal procedure under the Ponsonby rule is that if there is an objection, the matter is brought before the House. The briefing note given to Members of Parliament about the matter clarifies that that is not an obligation but a custom. It also says:
"There is no presumption that Parliament will debate every treaty laid under the Ponsonby rule, but once Parliament has been presented with the text of an important or controversial treaty, it is difficult in practice for the Leader of the House to resist a debate on it. Indeed, Ponsonby's original announcement included the promise that `If there is a formal demand for discussion forwarded through the usual channels from the Opposition or any other party, time will be found for the discussion of the treaty in question.' Consequently, it may be said that any controversial treaty which requires ratification is as likely to be debated in the House of Commons as in other comparable Parliaments."
I hope that I will make it clear that that is not what happens. Parliament is systematically deceived and has been so ever since the first signing of the agreement. The systematic and consistent refusals by the Leader of the House to hold a full debate before Parliament in Government time are part of a process which goes back almost 40 years.
The letter from the Leader of the House states:
"Neither the 1958 agreement itself nor the amendment now under consideration involves any financial commitment by the UK or entails any obligation to purchase goods or services from the United States. The servicing, maintenance, operation and decommissioning costs of the Trident programme are determined by separate agreements." Strictly speaking, it may be accurate to describe the situation that way, but it is also economical with the truth. The way in which the matter has been dealt with in the American Congress reveals a markedly different picture of the practical and financial implications of the agreement into which the UK entered all those years ago.
I am grateful to others who have raised the issue in the past--particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), in a debate on 21 December 1981. In it he said:
"I am deeply embarrassed by the possibility that plutonium provided by the British civil nuclear power programme might be contributing to that weapons drive."
He was referring to the rapid expansion of the American nuclear weapons programme in the 1980s, and added:
"That contribution will remain real whether the plutonium that we send is used directly for one of the 14,000 nuclear warheads or merely used indirectly to start the Clinch River fast breeder, and
Column 1224thereby to free stocks of plutonium for the weapons programme that would otherwise have been used to start the fast breeder reactor."--[ Official Report , 21 December 1981; Vol. 15, c. 733 -4.]
The years since then have produced a realisation that the agreement provided significant, core underpinning of precisely that expansion of the American nuclear weapons programme. There is substantial evidence that there has been crossover from the civil plutonium produced in the UK to the American nuclear weapons programme. My hon. Friend received limited answers. I was shocked to have had it confirmed by the Library that the signing of the original agreement was never formally announced to Parliament. In the United States, the agreement's terms and implications were the subject of four months of detailed formal hearings by Congress. Yet the UK Parliament was denied any access to the agreement or any scrutiny or discussion of its implications. That is a dreadful indictment of Parliament's role in determining the ethical if not legal acceptability of agreements and treaties which the UK enters into. The public and Parliament were deceived over the signing of both the original agreement and its extension now.
The House was never told either that there were additional details of the agreement which have never been acknowledged by the Government. On 28 November 1979, one of the congressional records--a message from Jimmy Carter, the then President of the United States, to the Congress of the United States--simply said:
"I am pleased to transmit to the Congress the text of an amendment to the agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for co-operation on the uses of atomic energy for mutual defence purposes of 3 July 1958, as amended . . . The joint classified and unclassified memorandums, which provide summary analysis of the amendment, are also enclosed."
Those documents were supplied to the US Congress. Under the American Freedom of Information Act, it has been possible to get access to that annexe.
My excitement about the annexe quickly dissipated when I discovered that, although people have access to it, this comes in a form that is described as "sanitised"--and it certainly is. The document is entitled
"The technical annexe to the agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the United States of America for co-operation on the use of atomic energy and mutual defence purposes of July 3rd 1958". The title is followed by nine pages, all of which are blank apart from three, which have just titles at the top.
I am not complaining that the full details of the technical annexe are not available. What concerns me is that the British Government have never even admitted that such an annexe exists. The information about it has systematically been kept from Parliament and there has been no discussion about the implications it might have for the governance and defence of the United Kingdom.
The Leader of the House, when he wrote to me, said that this was not a matter which should concern us because it was a "nil-cost" agreement. I was fascinated to discover, though, that there are substantial costs. It is a matter of how the costs are dealt with rather then whether they exist. I am especially indebted to Greenpeace which has done a phenomenal amount of work in bringing this
Column 1225information to light in the United Kingdom- -information which has been more readily available in the United States.
It is worth putting the transactions on record and then looking at the resultant costs. It is true that the agreement does not oblige the United Kingdom to purchase goods from the United States, but in that sense, it is a bit like a hire purchase agreement. It costs nothing to sign a hire purchase agreement; it is only when one starts to acquire goods under it that the costs begin. As a result of the American Freedom of Information Act, I was able to clarify that, between 1959 and 1978, the UK Government spent a total of $6.6 million on materials purchased under the agreement. The annual cost was $350,000 dollars. In addition, it is acknowledged that there is to be built into the account the costs of staff in London and Washington who are dedicated to handling material and information transfers. There are at least 10 such staff simply doing the administration. There is also the cost of visits to US facilities to obtain information which has to be accounted for.
I am sorry to go into acronyms at this stage, but there are two areas to which specific costs relate. One is the jowogs--the joint working groups. These are groups of scientists and experts who work on a variety of detailed technical exchanges in relation to the nuclear defence programme. As I understand it, there are at least 40 such jowogs in operation. They cover such subjects as neutron sources, high explosives for nuclear weapons, computational methods and procedures, metallurgy of weapons materials--that is, plutonium research--non-nuclear components, non- metallic materials, weapons physics, tritium technology, the spread of nuclear contamination, the joint use of test facilities, procedures and techniques for the manufacture, inspection, testing and acceptance of materials and weapons assemblies, existing and proposed Polaris warheads, the Polaris joint re-entry system working group, the strategic weapon test group and the joint United States-United Kingdom financial management working group. If there are no financial implications, it seems somewhat bizarre to set up a financial management working group.
We have also acquired equipment. We have acquired a series of items over the past 10 years which includes components such as velocity sensing devices, tritium gas reservoirs, timers, specially designed hardware items, structural components, by-product and unfabricated special nuclear materials such as plutonium, normal or depleted uranium and thorium, testing and handling equipment for nuclear weapons, swapped nuclear test debris samples and components used in the fusing, firing and making safe of British nuclear
weapons--including switches, relays, cables, printed circuits, batteries and irradiated vacuum tubes. Those items have all been exchanged under the agreement.
I was fascinated to know how and why those exchanges would take place at nil cost. The description suggests the sort of homely exchange that takes place on the porch at the end of a long sunny evening, when people are just swapping tales. The practicalities of the agreement, however, are far removed from that. They relate to practical exchanges of information, resources and hardware that are essential parts of the nuclear weapons programmes of both America and the United Kingdom.
Column 1226The details of how the agreement was to be financed were never presented to the House. Some were set out in a book by John Simpson, who is neither a relative of mine nor a newscaster, but who was a special adviser to the Palme commission and a member of the UN secretary-general's expert group on conventional disarmament. In "The Independent Nuclear State", he wrote:
"It was planned that the Atomic Energy Commission would create a $200 million revolving fund to finance the Anglo-American trade in fissile materials, though the precise mechanism envisaged remains somewhat obscure. There is a strong suggestion that the money was initially to be lent to Britain, which would then use it to pay for some or all of the enriched uranium and tritium purchased from the AEC prior to 1964. Receipts for this transaction would then be used to purchase plutonium produced in Britain. This procedure would have the effect of making the transaction a virtually cost-free exercise for the United Kingdom Government."
The exercise may be cost-free in a strict accounting sense, but it is a version of the Asil Nadir approach to accounting for exchanges, which I find extremely dubious. Again, though, the House was never told that such a fund was being set up by the United States to allow the United Kingdom to purchase materials, and to have the plutonium purchased back in what would appear to be a nil-cost transaction. If that sum existed in 1964, does it still exist now? Will the Minister tell us whether it has moved with the retail prices index? If so, we are talking about a sum that must now be in the region of $1 billion--not insignificant in anyone's accounting terms. I also wondered about the sort of materials which were involved in the exchange. I am grateful to the United States Natural Resources Defence Council, which managed to establish the current volume of exchange--the "shopping basket"--between the United Kingdom and the United States, through to 30 December 1994. The United States estimated that the following quantities would be exchanged in each calendar year: 500 kg of normal or depleted uranium, 100 kg of thorium, 200 g each of other source, by-product and unfabricated special nuclear materials. In addition, there would be an exchange of "test equipment". The one item that was deleted by the American vetting system was the specific details of the amount of plutonium that was part of the exchange. Clearly, however, plutonium was the other component of that exchange.
For a long time, the Government attempted to say that the plutonium was part of the nuclear weapons programme and that there was no prospect of any plutonium produced in civil nuclear reactors being part of a weapons programme, either directly or indirectly. However, on 4 July this year my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent asked a written question to which the then Minister of State for Defence Procurement replied:
"The 1962 test confirmed the technical feasibility of constructing a nuclear explosive device using reactor-grade plutonium. This fact was declassified by the United States in 1977. There are, though, significant technical difficulties which would complicate the manufacture and storage of any weapon based on reactor-grade plutonium."
In a second written answer, my hon. Friend was told:
"The assurance given in 1964 by the United States Government to the United Kingdom Government, that plutonium produced in the United Kingdom civil reactors and supplied to the United States under the 1958 agreement would not be used for weapons purposes, remains valid."--[ Official Report , 4 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 82-3 .] These seem to be completely contradictory statements.
Column 1227The United States admitted on 27 June this year that it had used civil plutonium in a nuclear explosion. What we do not know is how many other nuclear explosions were conducted using civil plutonium. We know only that it is now accepted that that happens and that the UK objections are technical rather than ethical. I must say that I think that the ethical aspect is much more important than the technical one because it raises important questions about the integrity of the United Kingdom's civil nuclear programme and that of any commitments that we make about the use of plutonium in the production of nuclear weapons.
We also know from our own UK sources that the United Kingdom has produced some 80,000 kg of plutonium--enough to make 20,000 nuclear bombs. However, we have no account of the plutonium transfers between the United Kingdom and the United States. We have no knowledge of how many of those transfers involved civil nuclear materials, or how much of that plutonium was used in the American nuclear weapons programme.
Many hon. Members have become increasingly disturbed about the dishonesty of the United Kingdom's approach to signing, conducting and sustaining an agreement which may well have a destabilising rather than stabilising effect on global and international relations.
I remind the House of a comment made on 13 May 1986 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He said: "The biggest cover-up of all, for which I shall never forgive those responsible, was that throughout the period when I was Minister, plutonium from our atoms-for-peace reactors was going to America to make bombs and warheads that would return to American bases here. That view has been confirmed by Ministers in this Government. I was cross-examined about it at the Sizewell inquiry, and only recently has it been admitted that the atoms-for-peace power stations are in reality bomb factories for the United States."--[ Official Report , 13 May 1986; Vol. 97, c. 612.]
The scale of that bomb-making process has never been admitted. The only estimate that I could come across was in the technical annexe to the book by John Simpson, in which the author said that the initial view of the United States was that it would acquire a maximum of 6, 500 kg of plutonium from Britain to support its nuclear programme. The House has never been given any confirmation of how much plutonium the United Kingdom has supplied to the United States as part of the agreement. I now formally ask the Minister to tell the House what congressional committees have almost certainly been told in the United States. The House has a right to know what scale of plutonium exchanges this country has been involved in as a result of the obligations entered into as part of the agreement.
Some enormous implications follow from the way in which the agreement has been signed, conducted, sustained--and now, possibly, renewed. The first implication relates to the non-proliferation treaty, and the conference on its extension that will begin in April next year.
Many of us have long argued that Britain is in breach of articles I and VI of the non-proliferation treaty. The Trident programme is almost certainly an act of nuclear proliferation. Everyone outside the United Kingdom acknowledges the fact that the massive increase in the