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House of Commons

Tuesday 16 February 1999

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

PRIVATE BUSINESS

City of London (Ward Elections) Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Wednesday 24 February at Seven o'clock.

Oral Answers to Questions

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS

The Secretary of State was asked--

Chemical and Biological Weapons

1. Laura Moffatt (Crawley): If he will make a statement about progress towards achieving the elimination of chemical and biological weapons. [69420]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): Chemical and biological weapons are banned under their respective conventions. We continue to work for universal accession to both conventions and are playing a leading role in negotiations on a protocol to strengthen the biological weapons convention. We are working hard to ensure effective global implementation of the chemical weapons convention. It is our ambition to prevent proliferation and help rid the world of those weapons of mass destruction.

Laura Moffatt: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and congratulate the Government on their stand, particularly on the convention on chemical weapons. Does he agree with me and with the Defence Select Committee that it is crucial that, under the chemical weapons convention, we continue to encourage countries to lay open their pharmaceutical industry for inspection, to ensure that all countries--including, of course, Iraq--are aware of exactly what is being produced?

Mr. Lloyd: Unfortunately, Iraq is not a state party to the chemical weapons convention--which gives us a problem, and is why more direct action to degrade Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capability was necessary in recent weeks. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is right to say that, if we are to rid the world of those weapons, we need not only processes to prevent the export of relevant

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technologies, but systems of verification and of challenge inspections, to ensure that those who want to flout the convention are brought to book.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Does the Minister think that it would be appropriate to send international inspectors to Sudan to check whether the factory that was bombed by the United States was making weapons of mass destruction, or aspirins?

Mr. Lloyd: Obviously that is a question for the Government of Sudan. Undoubtedly, it would help enormously if Sudan were to join as party to the chemical weapons convention and--were it so to do--specifically to accept the regime of challenge inspections and verification. That would put the matter beyond all doubt.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): Why is it a matter for the Government of Sudan? The United States Government launched a devastating blitzkrieg of cruise missiles on a pharmaceuticals factory on the basis of evidence that Kroll Associates--the respected New York investigators--in a report this week, said was "totally wrong". Will the Minister now say publicly, in the interests of proving that we have an independent foreign policy, what I know to be the Foreign Office's private view--that the attack on Sudan was a terrible, ghastly mistake?

Mr. Lloyd: The United States Government's public position, which my hon. Friend knows very well, is to hold to the view that the factory was being used for the production of chemical weapons. I simply repeat what I said to the House: the way for Sudan to move forward in the matter is to adhere to the chemical weapons convention, and to accept the verification procedures and challenge inspections.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): The Minister and I can agree that a fundamental objective of foreign policy must be the elimination of chemical and biological weapons. However, we must not forget the accompanying technology and delivery systems. Will the Minister confirm the alarming reports that Russia is not only supplying technology illegally to Iraq, but has plans to provide Syria with a ballistic missile capability, and has thousands of Russians working on the development of Iran's nuclear, chemical and biological programmes? Does he agree that the Russians' actions dramatically escalate security risks in the region? Will he tell the House what he is doing, either directly with Russia or at the United Nations, to discourage Russia from rearming Iraq and increasing tensions in the middle east?

Mr. Lloyd: Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov has categorically denied those stories, which is important. We always treat with concern any stories--from whatever source--about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Within those terms, the matter has been raised with the Russians. I can repeat what I said: we have no evidence to suggest that there is any truth in the stories. I should tell the House--although I am sorry to have to raise a political note--that the previous Conservative Government were prepared to arm the Iraqi Government and Saddam Hussein. In so doing, they were prepared to breach any concept of international law, and they dictated who built weapons of mass destruction.

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Agenda 2000

2. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): What representations he has received about Agenda 2000 in respect of enlargement of the Union; and if he will make a statement. [69421]

9. Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): What representations he has received about Agenda 2000 in relation to European institutions; and if he will make a statement. [69428]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): We are in regular contact on Agenda 2000 with consumer groups, regional organisations and the business and farming communities. In the negotiations, we support the Commission's proposals on reform of the common agricultural policy, particularly the cut in intervention prices, which will bring annual savings of £80 a year for the typical British family.

We support streamlining the structural funds, and will work to preserve the current proposals, which will make the United Kingdom one of only two member states to receive an increase in the number of areas covered by objective 1. We shall press vigorously for stabilisation of Europe's budget at broadly the level of the current year, and have made it plain that the case for the British rebate is as compelling as ever.

Enlargement of the European Union is an historic opportunity to unite east and west. In order to afford enlargement, the European Union must get spending under control. We are determined that it should do so.

Mr. Watts: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Does he agree that it is a sad indictment of the policies of the previous Government that Britain has some of the poorest regions and some of the richest? Will he do all that he can to ensure that structural funds continue to go to the areas that need them to try to bridge that gap?

Mr. Cook: As I have told the House, we shall have an increased number of areas covered by objective 1 structural funds. That should not give hon. Members any comfort, because it reflects the extent to which those regions have suffered over the past two decades, since they were last looked at. We are determined to ensure that they have every opportunity to recover from their current position. We shall ensure that they are supported by appropriate Government measures.

Mr. Quinn: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reform of the common agricultural policy is inextricably linked to European Union enlargement? Would he like to contrast the Government's attitude with the little England mentality of the Conservative party--

Madam Speaker: Order. That is not the Foreign Secretary's responsibility. Will the hon. Gentleman finish his question?

Mr. Quinn: I apologise, Madam Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to ensure that the Labour party's policies are seen to flourish at the forthcoming negotiations on reform of the common agricultural policy and European Union enlargement?

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Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend's question speaks for itself. [Laughter.] I do not know what the Conservatives find funny about the fact that they were unable to make progress on the beef ban for two years. We have made progress through constructive engagement. Through our approach to Agenda 2000, we are likely to achieve prices in cereals and beef that will be broadly comparable to world prices. That was never secured by the previous Administration over 18 years. The rest of the nation may laugh at the Conservatives' record, but Conservative Members have nothing to laugh about.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that he accepts the recommendation of the International Development Select Committee on Agenda 2000--that all development should be undertaken by one commissioner, so that the whole development budget can be combined in a managerially and administratively sensible way?

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have considerable concerns about the European Union's development budget. It does not follow the policy, which we have adopted strongly, of targeting help on the poorest people in the poorest countries. As Britain is increasing its development budget thanks to the Government's policies, we can speak with authority on the issue and will continue to do so.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an absolute assurance that the British rebate is non-negotiable?

Mr. Cook: Yes.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South): Madam Speaker, I apologise for having called you Madam Deputy Speaker last week.

Madam Speaker: I said that the hon. Member would never be called again. It shows what a softy I am.

Mr. Marshall: It shows that we can both make mistakes.

My right hon. Friend referred to the need to reform the structural funds. Britain is also keen on reform of the cohesion fund, but Spain--a main beneficiary of the fund--is violently opposed to the proposals. Is there any evidence that Spain might be adopting positions on other issues affecting UK-Spanish relations to change our stance on the cohesion fund?

Mr. Cook: Spain's position on Gibraltar existed long before the cohesion fund was invented. It is our view that as the cohesion fund was invented to prepare countries for membership of the single currency, it is illogical to continue with that fund once they are actually in the single currency. In those circumstances, we remain to be convinced of the case for the cohesion fund.

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