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Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment, his performance today and his statement. I welcome particularly the Government's decision to launch a study of traffic problems in Blunsdon, in my constituency. A bypass scheme there was cancelled by the previous Government, much to the horror of my constituents. The results of that cancellation have been growing traffic congestion in the area, a choke point on the strategic trunk road between the M4 and M5, the bisection of a village and pollution.

We welcome the fact that the scheme is no longer dead and buried. However, I seek my right hon. Friend's assurances on two points. First, will there be an early start to the study? Secondly, will the bypass option enable Swindon borough council and the Highways Agency to retain the land that they own and which is needed for the bypass? If they have to sell that land, we would be denied the possibility of a bypass for at least 25 years.

Dr. Reid: On the first point, I assure my hon. Friend that we will begin as soon as possible. On his second point, I do not think that he would expect me to give a firm assurance on what appears to be a very complicated land ownership and planning development matter that also involves my portfolio. I am afraid that it will be another few days before I have mastered that brief.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have heard reports this morning about the closure of a brand new Siemens micro-chip factory on Tyneside, with the probable loss of up to 1,000 jobs. That is the first big strike at British manufacturing industry as a consequence of the collapse of prices and markets in the far east. The shock and anger on Tyneside will be very great--indeed, more than I can express properly now. I appreciate the present circumstances of both the House and the Government, but

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have you, Madam Speaker, been informed that the Government intend to make a statement about the matter today?

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I rise to support the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) for a statement by a Minister. This could be the worst piece of news for the north-east of the past decade or so, and it demands an urgent ministerial statement.

Madam Speaker: I must inform the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) that I have not been advised that a Minister is seeking to make a statement about that matter.

Mr. Prescott: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have only just heard the news, which, if it is correct, would be a terrible development. I visited the Siemens plant quite recently and it is a wonderful facility. I am sure that the people in that region will be very concerned. I shall take it upon myself to communicate with the Departments involved, including the Department of Trade and Industry and my own, to see what we can do in the circumstances.

Madam Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

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Madam Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Finance Act 1998

Crime and Disorder Act 1998

Government of Wales Act 1998

National Minimum Wage Act 1998

Lloyds TSB Act 1998.




    That the Resolution of the House of 18th February 1963, relating to the appointment by the Home Secretary of an Advisory Committee to examine every application for release from the armed forces for the purpose of contesting a parliamentary election, and to report to the appropriate Service Minister, in each case, whether or not it is satisfied that it is a bona fide application, be rescinded.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]



    That Mr. Malcolm Bruce be discharged from the Treasury Committee and Dr. Vincent Cable be added to the Committee.--[Mr. McWilliam.]

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Nuclear Weapons (India and Pakistan)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

12.39 pm

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Thank you, Madam Speaker, for granting me this Adjournment debate--the last business of the House before the summer recess. I thank the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) for delaying his holidays to respond to the debate.

Both India and Pakistan have rich histories and proud and diverse cultures. I have taken an interest in that part of the world for many years, and I am a member of the all-party groups on both India and Pakistan. I have a constituency interest also, as many who came to this country from India and Pakistan have settled in Leyton and Wanstead, where they have contributed enormously to the local community. Along with my wife, I have visited both countries and regard them and their people with considerable affection.

India and Pakistan are relatively young states, having spent generations freeing themselves from colonial rule. The independence struggle took place at a time when Britain had a very different view of its place in the world. One of my predecessors as the hon. Member for Leyton, Reg Sorenson--later Lord Sorenson--was a great advocate in this place of Indian independence.

The subsequent division between Pakistan and India at the time of independence in 1947--in which Lord Mountbatten, on behalf of the UK Government, played an important role--left many dead and destitute, and there is a continuing legacy of resentment between the two countries. That resentment has, on three occasions in the past, spilled into war. Any student of the area knows that it could easily lead to another.

Having gained independence, India and Pakistan were treated poorly by the rest of the world, being constantly patronised and belittled. They were regularly used as pawns in the cold war. That was no way to treat proud cultures.

As well as having a close interest in south Asia, I also oppose nuclear weapons around the world. I have repeatedly spoken in the House for nuclear disarmament and arms control, and I am currently the convenor of Parliamentary Labour CND. Nuclear weapons are immoral and wasteful of precious resources.

Hiroshima day is next Thursday, 6 August. The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where nuclear weapons were used, was on a truly horrendous scale. Current nuclear weapons are multiple Hiroshimas. We should be working for a world free from nuclear weapons. That places an obligation on nuclear weapons states to reduce and eliminate their arsenals. By logic, that must mean that no new country should become a nuclear weapons state.

It made me immensely sad, therefore, when India carried out its nuclear tests in May. The tests were rightly and roundly condemned by the world and led to the imposition of a variety of sanctions by a number of states such as Japan and the United States, where there is law to make such action automatic when there is nuclear weapons proliferation.

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The first test on 11 May took most of us by surprise, although hindsight shows that there were several warning signs, including some nationalistic comments by Bharatiya Janata party politicians, who form the new Government in India. The Indian Government stated that they had carried out three simultaneous test explosions, although there may in fact have been only one explosion, and a judicious politician's use of words to imply that three weapons had been tested.

It is difficult to carry out tests simultaneously, as the slightest mistiming in triggering any of the devices can mean that one or more could be damaged by the explosion of another, and not detonate or, worse still, scatter its contents over a wide area. Because of the technical difficulties, it has never been done by the United Kingdom, and the United States has tried it very rarely.

The Indians carried out two more tests two days later. Sadly and alarmingly, the Indian Government's actions were met with acclaim by the population: opinion poll after opinion poll showed that, in the initial few weeks, there was popular support for the tests, although that has since declined. At the time, I felt that that was misguided and misdirected nationalism--I still think so--and that such joy would be more than matched by bitterness and despair if the weapons were used. That may be reflected in the future in millions of individual personal histories, because the money wasted on these useless weapons could have been used to save lives or vastly improve the quality of life of whole communities.

The world's response was not all that it could have been. Sanctions were not implemented quickly or tightly enough, and many states delayed their decision on how to respond. Several of the major powers gave the impression that they might be prepared to soften their attitude and weakly accept the new status quo as inevitable. Pakistan was put in an unenviable position and it was perhaps inevitable that it would carry out tests of its own. Those happened on 28 and 30 May. Again, there is a doubt about precisely how many tests were carried out.

The tests are symptomatic of the regional security situation, which has been characterised by provocation and retaliation. Disputes, most notably over Kashmir, have brought the two states into conflict. As a consequence, their military bills represent a sky-high proportion of their national resources.

The Indians, especially, like to argue that it is not for outsiders to preach about what should be done about conflicts such as Kashmir. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that the conflict should be resolved bilaterally, but has offered assistance that may be acceptable to India and Pakistan to help to achieve a settlement.

It is perhaps worth noting at this point the valuable help given by outsiders in our own seemingly intractable problems in Northern Ireland. Senator Mitchell of the United States was the most prominent, but not the only, outsider to be involved in efforts to bring peace, and his contribution is rightly applauded. India and Pakistan should not have a closed mind to outside assistance in resolving the problem of Kashmir.

The resolution of the tensions between India and Pakistan is primarily a matter for the states themselves, but the introduction of an overt nuclear weapons capability means that the rest of the world will be affected if anything goes wrong, so the rest of the world has a

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direct stake in what happens in the region. If India and Pakistan want to tell us that we should not interfere in their internal affairs, they should be left in no doubt that their holding of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to an opposite world reaction.

I am not saying that nuclear war in south Asia is an early likelihood. I am sure that the leaders of the two countries are too sensible to start a nuclear war deliberately, but the misapplied nationalism, of which there have been plenty of examples, could lead to a frenzy of hatred in which nuclear weapons just might be used. In a period of tension, there is always the danger of a misjudgment or an accident. History is littered with wars that everyone was confident would never happen.

The effects of nuclear war know no boundaries. A single nuclear weapon detonated anywhere in south Asia would have political and environmental effects a long way away. Some sheep in Wales are still controlled because of the effects of the Chernobyl accident 12 years ago. The work done on nuclear winter during the cold war proved that it was possible to cause major changes in the world's climate with only a small number of nuclear weapons.

Possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a global issue. The greatest threat to the 21st century would be proliferation of nuclear weapons until they were in the hands of many states, some of them unstable, or even in the hands of terrorists. Non-proliferation must be taken seriously in the other nuclear weapons states as well as in India and Pakistan. It is immoral for India and Pakistan to say that they will go non-nuclear when others do. They are making the great leap in proliferation. They are contributing to an immensely dangerous world in the next century. If proliferation is unchecked, they will not be unscathed.

Developments in south Asia put five other Governments around the world in a difficult position. Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China possess nuclear weapons, and their criticism of India and Pakistan is serious weakened by that. If the five want to stop proliferation to make sure that the world is safer, they must move unequivocally towards elimination of their own nuclear weapons. The Government have made some positive steps by reducing the number of operational warheads. Cuts announced in the strategic defence review were welcome. They offer an opportunity for dialogue with India and Pakistan, but we must pursue the theme of nuclear weapons reduction and elimination, not parity.

Sir David Gore-Booth, our high commissioner in India, has today decided to leave that post for a career in business. I fervently hope that our new high commissioner will play an active diplomatic and political role in pressing for the stop of nuclear weapons. There must be no weakening of that position. Will the Minister comment on how he expects the new high commissioner to argue against India's nuclear weapons policy?

The Minister appeared last week before the Select Committee on Defence. He accepted that Britain was poorly placed to complain because of our possession of nuclear weapons. He said that the key difference between the United Kingdom and India or Pakistan was that

That distinction is useful, but it does not stop the United Kingdom being serious about stopping worldwide proliferation of nuclear weapons. We must move ahead on our manifesto commitment to international negotiations on nuclear arms reduction.

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As well as possessing nuclear weapons, the five states that I mentioned have permanent seats on the Security Council of the United Nations. It seems that one follows the other, but that should not automatically be so. In recent years, India has felt that a country of its size should have a permanent seat. I have always felt that the Security Council's composition, which is based on the winners of the second world war, is biased towards the west. It is archaic to have two western European seats. If the council had been updated, India, because of its size, population, role in the world and future significance, would have been a prime candidate for a permanent seat. The nuclear tests have changed that. India's aspiration for a permanent seat is forlorn for the foreseeable future. I could not support such a move. Other states that wanted such important influence at the UN might also develop nuclear weapons as their route to the Security Council.

Pakistan and India have proclaimed themselves nuclear weapon states--they are clearly states that possess nuclear weapons--but that is a specific term, defined in the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty to mean a state that tested a nuclear device before 1 January 1967; that date has long gone. There must be no redefinition of the term to accommodate India and Pakistan, as that would fatally weaken the treaty, making it near worthless in the face of any new nuclear testing state. There must be no alteration to the treaty.

As well as the immediate tension between India and Pakistan, wider issues are involved with China to the north and Iran to the west. India has had long-standing border disputes with China, the worst of which led to an invasion by China in the early 1960s. The poor performance of the Indian army at the time may well have been a deciding factor in the start of the drive for nuclear weapons development. India's relations with China have been improving, not least with the introduction of a series of confidence-building measures in the border areas in the past few years. Overt nationalism by India risks fresh disputes on a larger and much more dangerous scale.

China's closeness to Pakistan, including allegations of nuclear assistance, is clearly of concern to India. Pakistan may be encouraged in its relations with China by its fear of India's superiority in conventional arms. Those three countries need to get together and adopt a joint security pact. It is also time for them to consider a joint economic pact. It is time for direct action to avoid the use of the rivalries that flow from misguided nationalism in all those three important states.

Iran shares a border with Pakistan, whose test site was only about 80 miles away. While it is early days, how the tests will influence the Iranian Government remains an issue. Iran is a party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but it has been alleged--mainly by the Americans--that it has been trying to acquire nuclear weapons. It is impossible to tell how true the allegations are, but if any part of the Iranian Government has nuclear pretensions, its hand can only have been strengthened by the recent events. If Iran attempted to get nuclear weapons, what would be the impact on Israel? Clearly, nuclear problems cannot be contained, and they move between regions.

One other problem that has not been mentioned but could affect the rest of the world is that the economy of Pakistan is weak. There is a danger that the Government could collapse and we could be facing a situation similar to the one that occurred at the end of the cold war with

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the collapse of the Soviet Union--the potential for loose nukes. In such circumstances, nuclear weapons and their components may slip from Government control and end up on the black market. That may also be true of India as, last week, three people were arrested and 6 kg of uranium seized in Madras. The quality or grade of the uranium is not clear, but the incident should be taken as a warning of dangers to come.

The possession of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan increases the risk of weapons-grade material falling into the hands of terrorists. Both countries have extensive problems with poverty and corruption. Whenever aid projects in Pakistan and India are organised through non-governmental organisations, our Government should not hesitate to remind those countries that, while we favour money being spent to alleviate hardship and poverty, we will not allow any hidden subsidy so that the Governments of India and Pakistan can divert money to their nuclear weapons programmes.

As a vice-president of the Royal College of Midwives, I am concerned that India has more than 25 per cent. of the childbirth-related deaths in the world. I emphasise that I do not want any direct poverty alleviation work halted, but every diplomatic opportunity should be taken to remind the Indian and Pakistani Governments of their duties to their people. We should finance only non-governmental organisation projects and end all Government-to-Government aid such as military and police training.

What can be done? We must make concerted efforts to show that the world will not tolerate nuclear proliferation. We cannot let the 21st century turn into a century of proliferation. There are some encouraging signs of contact between the two states. Two days ago, the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met privately during a regional summit meeting in Sri Lanka. By all accounts, it was a barely lukewarm meeting, but at least both promised that senior diplomats from each side would meet in the near future to arrange further dialogue. That should be developed more fully.

Other forms of contact, such as trade, must be encouraged. The Foreign Secretary told the House:

Dialogue and trade must be encouraged between them, and between China and India.

It is clear that the pressure must be kept up. Last week, the Indian Defence Minister told his Parliament that there was no question of his country "buckling" under external pressure to review its nuclear policy. They must be under no illusions; there will be serious consequences. If there were no pressure or consequences, the Indian and Pakistani Governments would not buckle, but would continue with their dangerous nuclear strategies. Sanctions must be kept tight.

Worryingly, the United States is relaxing some of its sanctions on trade in grain after protests by American farmers. Talk in Congress is of loosening the law imposing automatic sanctions on proliferating states. That

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would be a step towards letting the nuclear proliferation genie out of the bottle. Any replacement policy must be equally punitive or the wrong signals will be given to India, Pakistan and any future potential nuclear weapon state.

We must ensure that no form of aid can be used to subsidise nuclear weapons programmes. Soon after sanctions were introduced, the Prime Minister of Pakistan called for Pakistanis around the world to send money to his country. We should examine whether currency restrictions or other measures could be introduced to ensure that the effects of sanctions are not reduced through such action. His appeal should be countered and discouraged. It is, after all, in their terms, an interference in our countries. If the money is not for direct support of family or alleviation of poverty, it should be discouraged.

Further sanctions could be implemented. Military training and co-operation with the two countries should be suspended by all states. All foreign involvement with the military in India and Pakistan should be prohibited. There should be an international regime to restrict foreign investment so that it does not allow any diversion of resources for military purposes. Perhaps postgraduate nuclear physics students from India and Pakistan in this country and others should have their studies suspended until the situation is resolved. Perhaps we should refuse to give visas to scientists, engineers and technicians known to have worked on the nuclear weapons programmes. I also favour support in various forms for the people in both countries who believe in, and will campaign for, a non-nuclear future.

As well as the sanctions for change, which are admittedly negative but necessary, a positive approach is needed. Direct aid to alleviate poverty via NGOs, not the Governments, should continue, but it should also be pointed out how much more both Governments could do if they did not waste their resources on weapons. A non-nuclear future and a settlement of the disputes would be rewarded with greater security and greater prosperity for both countries. I hope that the United Kingdom Government, with the rest of the world, will be able to present a clear picture of the costs to India and Pakistan of keeping nuclear weapons, and the enormous benefits of not having them.

India and Pakistan have made the world a much less safe place. Natural allies of the two countries, such as I, have been put in a difficult position. Many people with a natural inclination to support India and Pakistan are unable to support the spread of nuclear weapons. The world is more secure with fewer nuclear weapons, not more; it is more secure still with none at all. Pakistan and India would be more secure without nuclear weapons.

Pakistan missed a big economic opportunity when it responded to India with its own nuclear tests. That opportunity should remain available, accompanying a decision to abandon nuclear weapons.

It is immensely sad that the first of those tests was carried out by India, the country of Mohandas Gandhi, the Mahatma, and a country with so much potential for promoting good in the world, in accordance with Gandhian principles. Nuclear weapons are a betrayal of the Gandhi tradition of non-violence.

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I hope that there will be a sensible rethink in both countries and that a non-nuclear approach to resolving disagreements will be re-established and reaffirmed in the interests of nuclear non-proliferation, a safer south Asia and a safer world in the 21st century.

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