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7.28 pm

Mr. Grieve: One or two points arise out of the way in which the debate has been conducted. One of the reasons

6 Nov 1997 : Column 454

for having debate is that Ministers should answer questions that are asked. The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department is always courteous and is normally assiduous in answering questions, which is not the case with most of his colleagues. In winding-up speeches, we are frequently treated to cheap moments of invective, the sidelining of points and a little bit of propaganda, after which the Minister sits down.

I make that point because in Committee two pertinent questions were asked by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) which the Minister made no attempt to answer. [Hon. Members: "He did."] I did not get that impression.

Mr. Burnett: The hon. Gentleman may have been confused by the fact that the Minister called me the Member for Bolton, West and Torridge.

Mr. Grieve: I did not pick that point up.

Will the Minister confirm that the Bill is not a prelude to merging two Departments to create a Department of justice? I assume that the Minister would have told us if that was the intention. On Third Reading, it would be helpful to have reassurance on that pertinent point. The present structure of the Lord Chancellor's Department and the marriage between the Executive and the judicial capacity embodied in the Lord Chancellor, which is valuable and unique to this country, would be seriously jeopardised if the Government intended to merge two Departments. I should be grateful for reassurance. On that basis, and as the matter has been well aired. I am happy to allow the Bill to proceed without a Division.

7.31 pm

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed to a lively debate. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) commented on the importance of style. He described the unhappy transformation that he appears to have endured--from powerful Minister and Privy Councillor to, as he rather sadly described it, humble out-of-touch Opposition Member. It may be a measure of the Conservative party's decline that such Conservative Members are here to deal with the matter at length.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said that we have had a full and detailed discussion. There are, however, one or two matters that, in the light of comments made on Third Reading, I must repeat for the avoidance of doubt. I have repeatedly said that there is a legal adviser in the Lord Chancellor's Department who works directly to the permanent secretary. I have stressed that point several times during our proceedings, but for the avoidance of doubt, I do so again.

I answered the point about a Department of justice, but I repeat my answer: the Government have no present plans to act on Sir Peter Middleton's recommendation. I hope that Opposition Members are satisfied that the Bill introduces a very modest change that will benefit public administration by removing an outdated restriction that has become anomalous.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

7.33 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The Bill will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty which bans any nuclear weapon test explosion and any other nuclear explosion. The United Kingdom is one of the states whose ratification is a precondition for the treaty's entry into force.

The contents of the Bill are, for the most part, highly technical, but that should not be allowed to obscure its much wider political significance. In simple terms, the Bill is about taking the next step--and a significant one, at that--towards the Government's goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Government are serious about that goal. We are committed to pressing for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. We have made it clear that, when we are satisfied with progress towards our goal of global elimination, we shall ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in multilateral negotiations.

We intend to make a difference in this area, as in so many areas of Government policy. We can make a difference, and we intend to do so. Our approach to multilateral disarmament will not be grudging and it will not be one that plays up the obstacles to progress in order to leave things as they are. We intend to be a constructive actor in the process, using our influence to move things forward where we can.

We also approach the matter in a practical fashion. We know that progress towards our goal requires the agreement of the other nuclear weapons states, including some with massively larger holdings than ours. Progress will also depend on the co-operation of the many other states that have no declared nuclear capacity. Let us be clear, however, that we have the vision and will to reach our goal and the commitment to build support for the steps that will mark the way. We shall look for progress simultaneously in a range of areas--transparency, confidence building and a fissile material cut-off treaty--as well as seeking to build on the warhead reductions already achieved. The Bill demonstrates the magnitude of the task, but it also underlines the fact that political will brings results. This Government will never concede that the task is hopeless.

The comprehensive test ban treaty is the culmination of almost 40 years of effort involving painstaking negotiations. When the parties to the non-proliferation treaty agreed a set of principles and objectives in 1995, they described a comprehensive test ban treaty as the next step on the road to nuclear disarmament. We are fully committed to the goals set out in those principles and objectives, and we welcome the CTBT now agreed accordingly. As its preamble makes clear, the treaty will constrain the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons, and end the development of advanced new types. That is truly an important step forward.

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The United Kingdom signed the treaty on 24 September 1996. Some 147 other states have now signed the treaty and seven have ratified it. It will come into force six months after the 44 states named in its annexe have ratified it. Those states all took part in the negotiations on the treaty in the conference on disarmament in 1996 and are listed by the International Atomic Energy Authority as having a civil nuclear capability. The United Kingdom is one of those states, 41 of which have already signed.

North Korea, Pakistan and India still have not signed. We are doing what we can, both unilaterally and in concert with others, to encourage all three states to sign and ratify the treaty quickly. A question mark, however, must remain over their commitment to the eventual goal of global nuclear disarmament if they stand in the way of the necessary interim steps.

We are making swift progress with the legislation needed to ratify the treaty. Indeed, when the Bill was introduced in another place, it passed through unamended. We hope to be the first nuclear weapons state to ratify; that will be a further demonstration of our commitment to the treaty, to nuclear disarmament and to non-proliferation.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will the Minister take this opportunity to praise the former Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, who played such an important part in getting the treaty signed in 1996, as the Minister mentioned earlier?

Mr. Lloyd: I have no difficulty in paying tribute to those who took part in a step which I have described as significant. It would be churlish to say that those who played a part did not contribute to taking events forward.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take my next words in the spirit in which they are intended. The world has to do a lot more and we shall look for his support when we begin to push the agenda forward in the weeks and months to come. The real battle concerns where we go next. The Bill has already completed its passage of the other place unamended, and I am sure that we shall see the same co-operation in this House.

The treaty establishes a number of new international bodies to ensure that its provisions are properly observed. A comprehensive test ban treaty organisation will be set up in Vienna once the treaty enters into force. It will work closely with the International Atomic Energy Authority and other relevant organisations.

Part of the treaty organisation will be a technical secretariat, which will be responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of the treaty. To that end, the treaty will set up an international monitoring system, which will consist of a worldwide network of monitoring stations. A number of those are in the United Kingdom and dependent territories.

The stations will use various technologies to detect, identify and locate the source of a suspicious event anywhere in the world. The data from the stations will be transmitted to an international data centre, which will be part of the technical secretariat in Vienna. The international data centre will then make the information available to state parties. Meanwhile, until entry into force, a preparatory commission is working in Vienna to develop the many detailed arrangements for implementation of the treaty, including the establishment of the international monitoring system.

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The verification regime in the treaty provides for consultation and clarification in cases of indications of possible non-compliance. If necessary, and if a certain proportion of state parties agree, an on-site inspection can start within 96 hours of it being requested. The inspections will be carried out by trained inspectors chosen from an agreed international list of experts, who will report back to the technical secretariat and state parties.


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