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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 18 January 2000

[Mr. Michael J. Martin in the Chair]

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.--[Mr. Touhig.]

10 am

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): I have a confession to make: I am slightly weird. There must be something slightly odd about me, because I seem not to be interested in the really important things in life, at least as defined by the popular mass media. I am not terribly interested in such vital matters as the private lives of presidents and princes, pop stars and television soap stars, which fill the front pages, and I cannot even claim great interest in the religious beliefs of football managers. What do interest me are matters that, given the number of headlines they generate, must appear to others to be trivial. To be honest, I get rather obsessed with the trivial pursuit of human survival.

In 1982, Mr. Perez de Cuellar, who at the time was Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, in effect, that he thought that the world was drifting towards war. He made that statement in London, the capital and centre of our media. What he meant was that there was a real risk of our drifting towards world war three, in which nuclear weapons would be used and the consequences for us all would be beyond human imagination. Mr. de Cuellar's speech gained two or three paragraphs in one Sunday newspaper. All our other papers were far too busy covering such issues as whether there was a relationship between Prince Andrew and Koo Stark--the really important issue of the day.

To introduce a measure of balance, I accept that the media would argue that they reflected public attitudes. They could claim that we as politicians are capable of being equally guilty in this respect. In addition, Mr. Perez de Cuellar's worst fears were not fulfilled: fortunately, the future held perestroika and glasnost, the ending of the cold war and the reversal of the nuclear arms race. Recalling the legend of Cassandra, I am aware of the danger of being branded a prophet of doom and so being unlikely to be believed, even though there is the rather worrying tradition of Cassandra's predictions coming true. At this time of millennium, when religious cranks prophesy false dooms, there is even greater reason not to believe doomsayers. However, the start of a millennium is perhaps a time when even politicians can look forward, beyond the traditional week--a long time in politics--to the next century, the next millennium and beyond.

If modern cosmological theories are correct, there is, I understand, the prospect of our planet surviving for a few thousand million years. It may therefore be presumed that we can expect the human race to survive for a few thousand million years. One of the greatest dangers to that being realised is, I imagine, an astronomical disaster--our colliding with another

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planet, which worries the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. O pik), or our planet going out of orbit. But the other major threat must surely be weapons of mass destruction.

In the worst-case analysis so popular with defence analysts, even if we reduce weapons to the level proposed in the strategic arms reduction talks--START 2--there will be sufficient weapons of mass destruction to destroy the human race. There is no reason to suppose that, in future millenniums, we shall not be capable of producing weapons even more lethal than currently exist. We may have devised the means of destroying our civilisation before devising the means of preserving it. The fulfilment of that danger would render futile everything that we debate or do in this place--or, indeed, anything that anyone does anywhere.

In the science of risk assessment, it is usual to multiply the scale of a disaster by the probability of its occurrence. We are discussing a scale of disaster that ranges from unimaginably horrendous to absolutely so: "the rest is silence. In relation to probability, we ought not to forget that, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy said that he feared he had lost control of events and that the probability of disaster was between one in three and one in two. Surely, our greatest responsibility to those living in future millenniums is to ensure that that probability never again approaches those levels.

There are disasters on a lesser scale which might appear even more likely to occur. Localised nuclear war is possible--although its consequences would be anything but localised--as is terrorism using weapons of mass destruction. I fear that complacency at the end of the cold war resulted in our failing to take advantage of many opportunities greatly to increase our safety. It was as though, in the euphoria of cutting out a primary cancer, we failed to take adequate precautions to ensure against the development of secondary cancer.

Those dangers are not distant, but potentially immediate. Consider our position this year: China is talking about modernising and increasing its stock of nuclear weapons, the United States Senate has refused to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty and the Russian Duma is refusing to ratify START 2. It is a sad irony that Russia and America share constitutional arrangements whereby a president can make war--but not peace--without consulting the legislature.

The United States is showing signs of hardline, isolationist attitudes. Especially worrying during a period of electioneering are hardline statements on the anti-ballistic missile treaty and talk--even by presidential candidates--of cavalierly abandoning that treaty. Such action could undermine the credibility of all treaties, encourage other nuclear weapons states to begin to rebuild their stocks and increase the atmosphere of fear growing in Russia, where acting President Putin has issued a statement the effect of which is to lower the nuclear threshold and abandon the idea of partnership with the west.

All that might be electioneering rhetoric, but it is dangerous because it raises the risk of disaster engulfing us as a result of misunderstanding and accident. It has been said that, at some point in the past couple of years, the United States warned Moscow that it was going to launch a communications satellite from Norway.

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However, Russian command and control were so poor that they forgot to warn the local radar station and a nuclear alert began. Imagine that happening in a time of more dangerous attitudes.

Perhaps Putin is only electioneering, but, in India, the Bharatiya Janata party's electioneering led to a dangerous position developing between that country and Pakistan, so reminding us of the perils of proliferation and localised nuclear wars. Who knows how frighteningly close India and Pakistan came to a localised nuclear war over Kashmir? Let us be under no illusions: we are not talking about only localised consequences, or even a devastating holocaust affecting only India and Pakistan, but talking about fallout, climate change--possibly even nuclear winter--affecting surrounding countries, many of which are desperately poor and rely on subsistence agriculture.

Proliferation also raises the possibility of weapons of mass destruction passing to some of the least stable states, which have some of the most unbalanced leaders. There is a risk of nuclear, biological and chemical materials, know-how and delivery systems spreading. Such fears have been exacerbated by the break-up of the Soviet Union, but proliferation poses risks from other countries too.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is not that dangerous development one of the reasons for maintaining a limited anti-ballistic missile defence system to deal with threats from rogue states? Such a system could meet those threats, even though it could not meet a larger strategic threat from a super-power.

Mr. Savidge : I am strongly in favour of discussion and debate on that issue. I am aware that people line up on different sides of the argument. Some, for example, believe that if the United Nations had an anti-ballistic missile system, it would make us all safer. I am not sure that that argument is right, which is why I favour debate. I shall speak in more detail later about the "we are the good guys syndrome. I am frightened about United States policy, which could give an impetus to the arms race, rather than reduce the number of nuclear weapons. It could also create paranoia in Russia and in other states. If there is a cavalier abandonment of one treaty, who will enter into treaties in future?

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that if the argument about rogue states is accepted by the United States, which has continued its programme to extend its anti-ballistic missile system, a precedent has been set that enables every other state in the world to express a fear about isolated attacks from rogue states and to argue that such a system should be an essential part of its defensive strategy? Those in the United States and elsewhere who support that argument should ask themselves whether the world would be a safer place if every state escalated the nuclear arms race with a further round of ABM defensive systems.

Mr. Savidge : I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I shall say more later about the danger of nuclear futures.

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To return to my previous point, rogue states give rise to the danger of know-how and materials spreading to other states. As civil satellites develop, there is a further possibility of blurring the distinction between rockets for military and for civil purposes.

The Aum sect of Japan alerts us to another danger--that of religious or political fanatics engaging in terrorism using nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, and such groups need have no problem with delivery systems. Before long, we could face a nuclear bomb in a briefcase, or a boat sailing off the west coast of the United States, spreading anthrax in the wind.

We all recognise that the probability of such disasters occurring is far too high, that we urgently need to reduce those risks, and that the issue should transcend party politics. Therefore, I am glad that we are talking in Westminster Hall, where the atmosphere is more conducive to dialogue and discussion than to point scoring.

No simple or single solutions exist. Treaty negotiations must be central, but they are in a parlous state. I have already mentioned the ABM treaty, and I am conscious of the fact that most hon. Members on both sides of the House think that we should press the United States to uphold its current negotiated treaty. I know that the Front Benchers of both main parties share the desire to persuade our US allies to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. The early-day motion that I tabled showed overwhelming support among Back Benchers of all parties for such a policy.

All nuclear weapons states must recognise that we cannot indefinitely proclaim our good intention of making massive cuts in our nuclear weapons stocks, or even eliminating them, without producing results. People in other countries are suspicious that we sometimes sound a little like St. Augustine, who prayed for chastity, but not yet. I applaud the efforts that our Government, the United States and others are making to improve the situation in India and Pakistan, to persuade those countries to engage in the test ban treaty and to reduce the risk there. However, we should lead by example.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty will be renegotiated this year. The treaty was agreed in 1995, when people could see that the two major nuclear weapons states had made massive reductions in arms; however, they have made few cuts since. The danger is that the treaty will not be ratified, or that people might simply pay lip service to it and so enable proliferation to occur. In answer to the question of whether proliferation matters, some ideologues in the United States say that proliferation would make us safer and that it could constitute ultimate deterrence, because if everybody had nuclear weapons, no one would use them. The National Rifle Association of America uses the same argument in respect of guns, and we know how well that works.

There is an urgent need to give new impetus to efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. I should like to refer to the proposal advanced by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), during the debate on the Queen's Speech. He said that the United Kingdom could take the

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initiative by convening a conference of the members of the United Nations Security Council. The conference would discuss setting up new strategic arms reduction talks--START 3--involving all nuclear weapon states; reviewing all treaties, including the ABM treaty; promoting a declaration of all nuclear weapons stocks, with the aim of producing an inventory, which the UN would keep, of all the nuclear weapon stocks of all the de facto nuclear weapon states; and engaging in serious negotiations on weapons reduction and entry into a nuclear weapons convention.

That is a serious and sensible suggestion. The United Kingdom has already taken a lead on two of the other major issues facing our species: climate change and third-world debt. As we enter the new millennium, we could give no better lead than on the crucial issue of nuclear non-proliferation.

Dr. Lewis : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way again. Can he envisage such negotiations resulting in Britain giving up all its nuclear weapons while countries such as Russia, the United States, France or China retain some of theirs?

Mr. Savidge : I tend to think of such questions as technical matters which can be considered during negotiations. I say that for two reasons: first, the question whether all countries would give up their weapons at the same time would be a matter for negotiation; secondly, we should remember that we belong to military alliances, which means that Britain could be in a position to give up its weapons before certain other countries did. It could be rather difficult to say that Britain would give up all its weapons before certain other countries did.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's speech. Before he leaves the nuclear issue, will he tell the Chamber his views on the fissile material throughout the world that is currently unaccounted for? There is concern about the fact that approximately 100 suitcase-sized nuclear bombs are missing from Russian military stocks and, of the high-grade fissile material, 4 per cent. is unaccounted for. Would the hon. Gentleman feature that matter in the scenario that he is laying out for us?

Mr. Savidge: I thank the hon. Lady for that helpful intervention. I was, in part, thinking of that when I mentioned fears about proliferation. I intend to discuss the vital importance of trying to restrict fissile and other dangerous materials a little later on.

When thinking about nuclear disarmament, we should consider, not only "vertical, but "horizontal nuclear disarmament, which includes detargeting, de-alerting and increasing notice-to-fires--steps that have already been taken by the United Kingdom--along with decoupling and separating warheads from delivery systems. I am using the terminology that Jonathan Schell employs in his valuable book "The Gift of Time, which is a summary of many useful suggestions made by leading experts around the world on steps that we could take to improve our safety.

We should be flexible about new thinking, wherever it comes from, and prepared at least to consider any confidence-building measures that are suggested.

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Germany, for example, suggested no first use, although one is aware that, at the moment, that suggestion would be rather more welcome in China than in Russia. We should also examine constructively proposals from non-nuclear weapons states. As I said in response to the hon. Lady's intervention, we should also seek ways in which to control, as best we can, the spread of dangerous materials and delivery systems and to expand nuclear weapons-free zones.

We should not neglect the dangers posed by biological weapons--a most dangerous aspect of proliferation. They are often described as the poor countries' nuclear weapons and they are the weapons that can most easily be used by terrorist groups. The biological and toxin weapons treaty was useful, but was wilfully flouted by several signatories, most notably the Soviet Union. There was a simple reason for that: no verification was involved. Now, perhaps because of pressure from its biotechnology industries, the United States appears to be reluctant to adopt verification measures. In response to those members of the United States political right who say that the Soviet duplicity on this issue should show us the danger of trusting treaties, I quote Ronald Reagan, who said that we should, "Trust, but verify. Verification will be important in all future treaties.

By all means, let each nation look critically at every peace proposal, but let us also look critically at every proposal from our military-industrial complexes to expand our military might. I forget which of our eminent Victorian statesmen it was who, when told by one of the chiefs of staff that we should increase our garrisons in India in case the Tsar intended to attack Britain via the sub-continent, said that he was rather surprised that the chiefs of staff did not want us to garrison the Moon in case we were attacked from Mars. One example of why it is useful to remember that is the frequent assertion that we should develop weapons now, not because of any existing risk, but because someone else may develop nuclear or other weapons in future. Although I am not expert in the language of the stock exchange, I believe that trading in "nuclear futures is dangerous.

I said that I would refer to the danger of nations adopting a "we are the good guys mentality. Every nation and every treaty organisation has a tendency to think itself or its members as the good guys and to believe that everybody should therefore trust their good intentions. Even though we do not talk so much now about the other side being the bad guys, the fact that we still do not think of them as the good guys implies that they cannot be trusted. Given the current sensitive situation in Russia, it is important that we try to understand Russian perceptions when we pursue matters such as NATO expansion. It is not that we should not pursue such matters, but that we should try to see how other nations perceive our actions and ensure that our actions are not destabilising.

I have advanced only a few proposals; other hon. Members will undoubtedly want to make other suggestions during the debate. Above all, reform of the United Nations--especially the Security Council--is vital if we are to create a system of world governance, or even world government. We have to improve regional security and conflict resolution. Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction cannot be disinvented, so we can be safe only if we can halt wars

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and the causes of wars. As we look back over the experience of the past century, or even at our entire human history, we cannot be complacent about how easy it will be to lift the sword of Damocles from above us.

I am pleased that the all-party group that is being set up this week has attracted interest from hon. Members of all parties and with widely differing views on defence matters. It is vital that we leave behind old slogans, old positions and old arguments. We must be prepared to look at new thinking. Recently, progress has come from unilateral initiatives and unilateral responses, such as those made by the present Government and the previous Government. Progress has also been made by bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral negotiations. There is a place for all those.

Above all, we need to discuss, debate, publicise and make progress on these issues. We must not slide into a situation where, through accident, misunderstanding or an act of madness, ultimate disaster occurs. We must "not go gently into that good night. As we contemplate the coming millennium, we have the technical capability decisively to rein back the four horsemen of the apocalypse, or to unleash them with devastating effect in the coming millennium.

I conclude by quoting from what I regard as Albert Einstein's last will and testament: a manifesto that he signed with 10 others of the world's greatest scientists a few days before he died. It includes the following words:

10.23 am

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) on securing the debate. The number of hon. Members present this morning is proof of the debate's importance to the House, and the subject's importance to society and to the world.

If we had to pick a time of maximum difficulty in making progress on the arms control agenda, especially in respect of weapons of mass destruction, we would probably have to say that it is now. The period preceding the United States presidential elections is not usually one in which the American regime focuses on such issues. Russia is conducting an internal war in Chechnya, and great uncertainty among the Russian people about their Government and their future makes for a less than easy time there. The situation on the Indian sub-continent has become unstable following nuclear testing by India and Pakistan; that, inevitably, has knock-on effects on China. The issue of proliferation is of huge importance, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North made clear. The urgency of controlling proliferation is driven by the fact that, although the many achievements of control systems are there for all to see, there have also been many failures, the most obvious examples being India and Pakistan.

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My hon. Friend touched on non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction. It is important to recognise that what used to be called the poor man's bomb--although, these days, chemical and biological weapons should probably be called the poor person's bomb--retains its astonishingly dangerous potential. Although the verification regime for chemical weapons has slowly become adequate because of greater testing, the framework for biological weapons still has a significant way to go. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment specifically on the possibility of progress being made in respect of biological weapons. I pay tribute to the work done by British officials during the various negotiations on biological weapons. I have no doubt that they have done as much as anyone to keep that show on the road and drive the agenda forward. It is an extraordinarily difficult job, but Britain's role has been significant.

The simple truth is that Britain and the nuclear powers have a particular responsibility as regards biological and chemical weapons. If we, from our lofty standpoint as nuclear powers, say that we need do no more than exhort others either to abjure development of such weapons or to give up existing weapons, we are kidding ourselves: the rest of the world will not treat that as credible--it will simply say that nuclear development is not necessarily the cheapest way to get into the weapons of mass destruction game. We should not be surprised if people want more than mere posturing and words on our part.

The onus on nuclear weapons states is to examine how we can begin to break certain parts of that deadlock. There are no overnight solutions: I am profoundly convinced that immediate success is not available to anyone. However, progress is possible and, as a nuclear weapons state, Britain has a pivotal role to play. We must examine the future--the not-too-distant future--of our own nuclear weapons, because technological change inevitably brings the possibility of technological obsolescence. If we know what our own long-term plans are, we shall be able to strike a position on the world stage that gives us influence over other nuclear weapons states. An open and honest approach to the debate might also give us influence over non-nuclear weapons states. The current Government have already done far more to achieve transparency in that respect than any previous UK Government or, indeed, any other Government in the world. By setting such an example to the rest of the world, we enhance our ability to tell countries such as France and even China that it is important to seize the opportunity to de-escalate. The alternative is escalation.

I shall speak briefly on the crucial importance of China, India and Pakistan. Historically, this debate has had a European or, at least, a Euro-Atlantic focus. However, modern Asia currently represents the most unstable element in the nuclear debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North said, China is a modernising nuclear state, with nuclear developments in India and Pakistan forming part of its security preoccupations. This morning, the Financial Times reported that China's attitude to Pakistan had cooled because it now accepts the need to recognise India's nuclear developments, especially its development of long-rang missiles.

We must engage countries such as India and Pakistan in debate, even though they are not party to existing

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treaties. That will be difficult. We must strip away the mythology--that having nuclear weapons is about national aggrandisement, when, in fact, it is rooted in national insecurity. We must persuade the people of India and Pakistan that nuclear weapons do not enhance their security. However, to do that we must be open and honest about our own long-term ambitions and our desire for nuclear de-escalation.

Belief in claims that the world's security is enhanced by expanding missile defence systems does not represent progress for any part of the world, whether the United States or elsewhere. Indeed, it must lead to intensification of the development of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

Mrs. Gillan : What is the hon. Gentleman's attitude to the Americans testing a missile interceptor over the Pacific today? Is he condemning that and the defence readiness review ordered by President Clinton as part of the entire programme?

Mr. Lloyd : Using the language of condemnation is pointless. We should instead use the language of de-escalation and concentrate on ways to remove the tensions that lead to build-up.

The United States may be confident about its position in relation to Russia and the latter's weapons of mass destruction and nuclear capability. That may be a rational view, given that Russia is an economically enfeebled country that cannot afford to sustain its existing nuclear capability. However, the same is not true of China. The United States should be aware that China is achieving enormous economic growth, part of which may be invested in weapons development. If the United States believes that, in the long term, it can defend itself against China on the same basis as it does against Russia, it is sorely mistaken. The way to deal with China is to ensure that the Chinese are again brought to the table to discuss credible nuclear deterrence. In the long run, we want China to be committed to a nuclear-free world and to take positive steps in that direction.

I have spoken longer than I intended. I end by emphasising that, although we tend to concentrate on nuclear weapons, we must recognise the frightening capacity of biological weapons. We need a verification regime, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North has said. However, the prospects for achieving that are further away than many of us would like. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make it clear that the British Government intend to press for a proper verification system for biological weapons, to parallel that for chemical weapons, which is at least beginning to work.

10.41 am

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I am, in part, speaking this morning as chairman of the parliamentary Labour party Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. My husband, Bob, was its chairman before he was killed, after which the group collapsed. When I entered the House, a group of friends and I formed a new group of the parliamentary Labour party CND, with which I am proud to be associated.

I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) for introducing this debate on global security and the proliferation of

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weapons of mass destruction--the full title is almost an adjournment debate in itself. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) whose comments were helpful and much in line with my own thinking on Pakistan and India. I have a decent knowledge of that subject because of the nature of my constituency.

I have been a member of CND for 41 years. I pay tribute to that organisation and to the European nuclear disarmament movement, which was led with great distinction by Edward Thompson. He wrote "Protest and Survive, of which I have a copy and which played an important role in making the people in this country aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons. But for the activities of the UK peace movement and similar groups throughout Europe and the rest of the world, including the United States, the US might have supported its foreign policy--particularly in Vietnam--by using nuclear weapons. The Americans had convinced themselves that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the second world war. What kept them from resolving the Vietnam conflict in the same way? I believe that their strong peace movement, about which we have heard too little, played an important role in convincing the US not to adopt the nuclear option in Vietnam.

To demonstrate that I am not stuck in a time warp of 1960s and 1970s politics, I shall turn to more recent aspects of the US war machine. "Master of Space is the motto of the US Space Command--a joint air force, army and navy command set up by the Pentagon in 1985. In its "Vision for 2020 report, it makes clear its ambition of

Last year, Kofi Annan urged the United Nations' annual conference on disarmament to

    "codify principles which can ensure that outer space remains weapons-free. The first secretary of China's mission to the UN, Wang Xiaoyu--my Chinese is not all that good, so hon. Members will have to forgive me if I have not pronounced that correctly--said later in the year:

    "Outer space is the common heritage of human beings . . . It should be used entirely for peaceful purposes and for the economic, scientific and cultural development of all countries as well as the well-being of mankind. It must not be weaponized and become another arena of the arms race. The track record of the Chinese on human rights is less than wonderful, and I cannot imagine the cultural developments for which outer space could be used--unless it is as some sort of gigantic IMAX screen. However, the Chinese have a clear view that outer space is not there for an extension of the arms race.

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Last November, 138 nations voted in the UN General Assembly to reaffirm the outer space treaty and its provision that space

    "shall be for peaceful purposes. Only the United States and Israel abstained. Lest we entertained any doubt about the Pentagon's position on the subject, Keith Hall, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Space, gave it to us loud and clear:

    "Space dominance, we have it, we like it and we're going to keep it. The US may be reluctant to pay its massive debts to the UN, but there is no problem with cash for research into weapons in space. The budget for Ronald Reagan's star wars, known under the Clinton Administration as ballistic missile defence, has held steady at about $4 billion a year, supplemented by additional, not-very-well-kept-secret billions: last March, Congress approved an additional $6.6 billion. All my information on America's ambitions for weapons in space comes courtesy of Professor Karl Grossman of the State university of New York, who has carried out a massive amount of meticulous research on the subject. His piece for The Nation, on 27 December 1999, which was jointly written with Judith Long, graphically illustrates the additional problem of space weapons being nuclear powered:

    "It . . . offers the specter of a fleet of Chernobyls orbiting the Earth. That is chilling.

Given the highly macho quotes from Pentagon sources, none of us should have been too surprised when, a few months ago, the Senate refused to ratify the international comprehensive test ban treaty. It was suggested that that was more about getting back at the President, post-Lewinsky, than about disagreeing with the treaty itself. Whatever the reason, it is a sad reflection on the thoughts underpinning the politics of what is now the only world power.

I come now to the subject of India and Pakistan and two very sad aspects of their nuclearisation. Last September, I went to Pakistan with four colleagues on a self-financed trip: we saw the appalling conditions in which the vast majority of people there live, and visited hospitals and schools where facilities are appalling. I also have first-hand experience from my advice surgeries, in which I talk to constituents who are some of the poorest people in Keighley, which is not a wealthy area. They are from Mirpur, part of Pakistan. Week after week, they send hard-earned money to their relatives in Pakistan, even though they can ill afford to send it; they do so because they recognise how much poorer their relatives are than themselves.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North said, it is extremely sad that Pakistan followed India's example. Pakistan could have gained the admiration of the rest of the world by not following India's example and putting the welfare of its people before nuclear aggrandisement. I condemn India for starting the nuclear arms race on the sub-continent, but I also condemn Pakistan for following its example. During our visit to Pakistan, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and I spoke to many politicians

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and political groups. We made it perfectly clear that we thought it an appalling travesty that one of the poorest countries should spend money on nuclear weapons.

If our country helped to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we would not only achieve a more secure future for generations to come, but contribute to the well-being of the millions who are undernourished, the children who are uneducated and the sick who are untreated. By reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons, we could take a lead in the world and set an example, especially for the underdeveloped countries.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton) : May I make a plea to hon. Members? This is a very important debate and the Minister must be given adequate time in which to respond fully. If each speaks for approximately three minutes, I shall be able to call the three hon. Members who still wish to speak, because it is the tradition and custom of sittings in Westminster Hall to call the Liberal Democrat spokesman at approximately 11 o'clock.

10.52 am

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall try to comply with your request, but three minutes is a tall order.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) on initiating this debate and on inaugurating the all-party group on this important subject, which had its first meeting this week. This important debate is taking place when international moves towards arms control are slowing down and the prospects are not good. As has been said, weapons of mass destruction can be biological, chemical or nuclear, and I shall comment briefly on each.

Biological weapons are prohibited under the 1972 biological weapons convention, but it is relatively weak and has no verification provisions. The ad hoc group in Geneva is negotiating a draft protocol that would create verification provisions. The spread of biological weapons would seriously threaten world peace, so a rigorous and effective verification process is vital.

The Government's policy on verification is good. It covers the range of inspection measures, from those that are routine to those that are challenged, and includes the sampling of materials at inspected sites. However, the United States is pursuing a policy that would fundamentally weaken the draft protocol by reducing the level of verification. The danger is that the powers for the verification of biological weapons programmes will be insufficient. The Government must take a strong position. I know that they have received support from European Union countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) spoke to the ad hoc group in Geneva when he was a Foreign Office Minister. A good signal would be sent if a current Foreign Office Minister went to the group and made it clear that we want an agreement on stronger verification procedures to be reached this year.

The 1993 chemical weapons convention operates successsfully, but there is a problem with the United States, which has made it illegal to send a sample from a United States site for laboratory analysis in another country. That is wrong--imagine if the Iranians or any

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other country created such a law. The Government need to make official representations to the United States to make sure that this important convention is not weakened in that way.

The rejection by the United States Senate of the comprehensive test ban treaty was a serious setback for arms control. The pressure for a national missile defence system will have a destabilising effect; it is already building up to the United States abrogating the 1972 bilateral anti-ballistic missile treaty. That would have a dreadful impact economically and in terms of proliferation, as other countries such as Russia and China would greatly increase their number of ballistic missiles. It is an irresponsible policy by the United States and an abuse of their super-power status. It is also a marker for a future arms race. The Government should challenge the USA on its nuclear policy.

The United States has an obsession with nuclear weapons, even though its Ambassador Thomas Graham said during arms control talks that the perception that nuclear weapons confer a special status on a state is dangerous. That profile can only encourage nuclear proliferation--we have to lower it and move towards disarmament. The perception that chemical and biological weapons bring a mini special status must also be eliminated.

Britain needs a greater separation from the United States on nuclear policy. We must press for greater nuclear arms control worldwide. The counter-proliferation approach will not succeed in the long term, because it is a forceful approach that provokes hostility and resistance and is perceived as one state trying to rule and being partial. We must press ahead on the non-proliferation and agreement approach, which means strengthening laws and strengthening treaties.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North said, United Nations reform is an important part of that process, as it includes proportional responses, administering international law and pursuing matters through the war crimes court. The United States has shown a resistance to complying with and participating in that expanded role for international law; it should be brought into the process. Ours is a dangerous world and current policies are making it more dangerous. Inaction and inertia are no answer. I urge the Government to pursue the arms control agenda.

10.58 am

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): One of the great advantages in having been involved in debates about nuclear defence and disarmament for nearly 20 years is that one can truthfully say, without conceit, that one has heard it all before. Indeed, it is usually helpful to recall that the period when arms negotiations were most complex, developed and thorough was the 1930s, when arms control efforts in the face of aggression led not to peace, but to disaster.

In the three minutes available to me, I shall make four points. The mathematics speak for themselves and the Chamber will forgive me if I do not develop my arguments as fully as I might have done. First, there are two ways of seeking the best method of keeping peace in the world: one is the "peace through strength approach and the other the "peace through disarmament approach. Sometimes, they are complementary, but

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more often than not they are contradictory. They were contradictory during the cold war, when many of the speakers in the debate so far sided with the "peace through disarmament approach. I would argue, and I think the majority of people in this country would agree, that the "peace through strength approach was vindicated by events.

Earlier, the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) rejected the argument for using ABM systems for defence against rogue states, because that argument could be used by any nation. That is an unrealistic view of why nations arm themselves. They do not arm themselves according to what other nations do and say, but after hard-headed calculation of the risks that they believe they face. Nations arming themselves with ABM systems will do so according to the threats facing them, not according to whether western democracies have a limited ABM system to prevent rogue states launching a handful of mass-destruction weapons against them. However, I concede that such a system would be destabilising if it involved trying to counter a strategic threat, as I said in an earlier intervention.

Article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is often said to create an obligation for a nuclear-free world. I have always argued that such an outcome would make the world safe again for conventional warfare, which has killed countless millions in years gone by, especially in the century that has just ended. Article 6 brackets a nuclear-free world with a requirement for general and complete disarmament: one is not expected to happen before the other. I would be perfectly happy with a nuclear-free world, provided that there was also general and complete disarmament. However, I advise hon. Members not to hold their breadth.

Finally, I shall put in a brief word for nuclear deterrence. The late Professor Sir Henry Tizard was the most eminent of defence scientists. In 1944 and 1945, he estimated what war would be like after the end of the second world war, when the atomic bomb would be part of the world's arsenals. He said that

11.2 am

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): I shall be as brief as possible, making three points for mathematical clarity.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) on securing this debate and on his work in getting the ball rolling on the all-party group for non-proliferation, which meets for the first time tomorrow evening. I hope that my hon.

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Friend's work will lead to a debate in the next few weeks, as we approach the NPT review conference. That debate should take place in Government time, as the matters under consideration are weighty and complex, and deserve much more discussion.

I agree completely with remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), especially about chemical and biological weapons being of greatest concern, as the regimes controlling them are weaker than those controlling other weapons of mass destruction. I also accept what he said about the current climate not being conducive to calls for disarmament. With international tensions militating against such calls, we have reached the precise point at which the debate must continue and develop. Those who think they have heard it all before in the past 20 years--or even before then--have the most to learn from future debate.

Secondly, I want to mention the work of the New Agenda coalition, especially the debate at the United Nations last November. I remind hon. Members that the majority of people do not accept nuclear deterrents as a rational form of defence. The New Agenda coalition is a coalition of 60 states--which obtained the support of a further 51 states in the United Nations debate--that believes that the threat of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to the survival of humanity. It is making an urgent call to the nuclear weapons states to intensify their actions to implement article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty, which commits them to seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons.

We should also remember that at that UN General Assembly in November there were calls from across the world--from South Africa in the southern hemisphere and from states in the middle east and central Asia--for the establishment of nuclear weapons-free zones. We must understand that although nuclear weapons have been seen as an integral part of the defence systems of the nuclear weapons states in western Europe and north America, that perception is not shared by a majority of nations or peoples, including nations that could well afford to develop their own nuclear weapons systems if they chose to do so.

Thirdly, as we move towards negotiations on the NPT, I appeal to the Government to exercise the full range of their diplomatic powers and to take a lead internationally on global disarmament. We have a remarkable record of taking leads on various international issues over the past two years. For example, the Government worked on climate change in Kyoto, and they established a global precedent for the abolition of land mines. There was also the elimination of the debt of the very poorest countries. The Government could earn themselves great credit and do the world a service by taking the lead now on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I make a plea to Liberal Democrat and other Opposition spokesmen. I want to give the Minister his full 10 minutes, so if they can reduce the length of their speeches, I am sure that hon. Members would be grateful.

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11.6 am

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): I apologise to my researcher because I have just thrown away three quarters of the speech that she prepared for me. I shall be very brief.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) on initiating this debate. He should in no way apologise for bringing these matters before us. I agree with him: sometimes we concentrate far too much on domestic politics.

The Liberal Democrats believe that the United Kingdom has a unique role to play in this context. After all, we are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a leading member of the Commonwealth, G8 and the European Union. I want to canter through some of the things that we believe the Government should be doing. We congratulate them on much of what they have already done--we have certainly seen a sea change--but there is much more that could be done.

The chemicals weapons convention of 1997 has a strong verification mechanism, but the corresponding treaty on biological and toxin weapons does not have an equivalent mechanism. The EU has been pressing for a new binding protocol to establish such a verification regime, and we hope that the Government will push for that. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is the cornerstone of nuclear control and disarmament regimes. We will be urging the Government to use their influence with our Commonwealth colleagues in India and Pakistan to ensure that those states sign up to the agreement. That is a matter of urgency.

We regard the decision of the United States Senate to reject the ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty as deeply unfortunate. We also believe that any break-out by the US from the ABM treaty would be deeply destabilising, particularly for relations with Russia and China. It would no doubt also encourage those countries as regards such systems. What additional steps are the Government taking to press the US on that? We have a special relationship with the US and this is one instance where we should use it.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North mentioned the call by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) in the Queen's Speech debate for the UK to convene a conference of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. We believe that that would be a major step towards a new round of arms reduction talks. It should have no holds barred on what it can discuss. That would be a useful step for the Government to take.

We should also work to bring about an annual declaration of all nuclear weapons held by de facto nuclear weapons states under a UN weapons register. We should proceed with negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention to match those for chemical and biological weapons, and we should formalise the commitment of all nuclear weapons states to nuclear disarmament. We believe that an EU decommissioning agency should be established to co-ordinate EU-financed efforts to decommission the obsolete civil and military nuclear hardware of the former Soviet Union.

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Finally, we believe that this country has a unique and unambiguous role to play. It is almost 39 years to the day that John F. Kennedy said in his inauguration speech as President:

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has set a fine example. We should all be grateful to him.

11.10 am

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I can come only a poor second to that canter around the block.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) on initiating the debate. It was said during a by-election that the hon. Gentleman was savage by name, but not by nature. The gentle way in which he introduced a debate on the serious issue of war was greatly appreciated by us all, not least by me.

There is no doubt that the certainties provided by the threat from the former Soviet Union are now a fading feature of the last century. We can now see more clearly the modern threats posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the ballistic missiles that carry them. However, we should not lose sight of the non-military security issues, which were touched on by some hon. Members this morning. The debate is about global security, which is threatened by non-military factors as well as by weapons of mass destruction.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) mentioned income disparity and economic polarisation, which is one of the most common causes of sub-state violence. The deteriorating situation in Africa, for example, poses a threat to European security and we should not lose sight of that in our debate, or forget that energy and water shortages and access to raw materials are also security issues. Conflicts over water are predicted to be a major cause of war in the new century. Europe relies on resources from less stable parts of the world, and our continued security relies on uninterrupted supplies. Environmental deterioration is almost unstoppable. Each year, millions of people are displaced or perish as their land becomes incapable of supporting the community. Global warming will result in rising sea levels, so we should never forget that more than 50 per cent. of the world's population live in coastal and estuary zones. That poses an unprecedented threat to peace and security.

Internal wars are on the increase. Of the 82 armed conflicts between 1981 and 1992, all but three occurred within states. Conflict prevention must be at the top of our agenda, as it is vastly preferable to conflict resolution. We have not yet developed a satisfactory early warning system. The more that interference in the internal affairs of states occurs, the more we must ensure that the legal basis on which we intervene is secure. We need more analysis, and I make no apology for calling on the Minister once again to instigate a full inquiry into diplomacy and deployment in Kosovo. The Opposition

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have long called for that, but it has been strenuously resisted by the Government. On the military side, the security agenda has changed from the relative simplicity of maintaining a nuclear deterrent to one that demands greater vigilance, increased diplomacy, more sophisticated allowances and the modernisation of our defences, to a degree that has not yet been recognised by many politicians, not least our own and our European counterparts.

Last year US intelligence estimated that, within 15 years, North Korea will have developed missiles capable of carrying nuclear, chemical or biological warheads with a range long enough to enable it to hit mainland America. Iran has tested a long-range missile to a distance of 1,300 km, which demonstrates the probability that that country, too, is successfully developing extreme long-range capability. Iraq has demonstrated its increasing capabilities: who can forget the devastating Scud missile attacks on Israel during the Gulf war?

The USA is currently evaluating the threats to establish whether the time is right to deploy a national missile defence system. As I mentioned earlier, today's edition of The Times carries a timely report on the test of the American missile interceptor. It states:

The problems arising from the development of this missile defence system programme have resulted in the current complex discussions with Russia on renegotiating the ABM treaty. The United States is considering seriously co-operating with Russia on a missile defence system, not least because Russia itself will also be exposed to a threat from rogue states, and, as was rightly pointed out, is running short of funds. Indeed, its military system is in decay. I hope that the Minister will have time to outline the Government's stance towards the ABM treaty and its renegotiation, and their approach to the missile defence system. We in Europe seem to have taken little interest in these developments, despite the geographical inevitability that puts us well within range of the threat: we are arguably a more vulnerable target than the USA.

Our lack of interest in considering missile defence systems appears to be based largely on cost and technical feasibility, coupled with a preferred pre-occupation with creating a common European defence as part of a federal European super-state. Without doubt, the United Kingdom is being drawn more deeply into Europe to the exclusion of the US, at a time when Europe should work more closely with America to face the escalating threats. We need to impove western co-operation, not least to counter the sinister chain of co-operation now seen among proliferating states, and to continue to build on NATO and the foundations--laid over many years--of the trans-Atlantic partnership. I should like the Minister to confirm the Government's position in respect of that partnership, tell us what evalution he has made of the developing threats, give us his views on the missile defence capabilities of the UK and Europe and where he sees them going, say what, if

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anything, is being done to establish the costs and the technical feasibility, and tell us what discussions about current missile tests he and his Department have held.

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have stayed within your strictures. The Minister has at least 10 minutes to respond. I congratulate all those hon. Members who took part in the debate but whom I did not single out by name, and I congratulate once more the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North on initiating the debate because it takes this vital issue forward.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, who speaks for the Opposition.

11.17 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain) : First, I apologise for being unable to take interventions on account of the constraints on time.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. He and other hon. Members have expressed various concerns, many of which I share. I pay tribute to the excellent work done by my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), who has provided me with a first-class platform.

In recent months, the world has become a much more dangerous place, as events in Russia, the USA and south Asia show. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) that the years ahead will be challenging for those of us who wish to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to improve global security, about which the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) made some valid points. However, I am not sure what the Opposition's policy is on this or many other issues before the House.

A constant challenge is to control the export of equipment, material and technology that might be of use to proliferators. It is hard, unremitting work which often requires difficult judgments. We play an active role in the relevant export control regimes, such as the Zangger committee and the nuclear supplies group in the nuclear sphere, the Australia group in the chemical and biological sphere and the missile technology control regime to prevent missile proliferation.

We are fortunate that a chemical weapons convention is in force, and that many key states are party to it. It contains effective arrangements to verify the destruction of existing chemical weapons and the non-production of such weapons in future, but we still need to secure universal adherence and compliance, together with full implementation of verification arrangements. The Government are pressing ahead vigorously on both fronts, and we strongly support the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

We are less fortunate with biological weapons. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central is right, and I am grateful to him for his acknowledgement

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of the work of Government officials. Many states have adhered to the biological and toxin weapons convention, but it does not have adequate verification arrangements. I assure my hon. Friend that we are putting major effort into the negotiations at Geneva to agree a satisfactory verification protocol to the treaty. I also assure my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) that I shall visit Geneva in March to do exactly as he asks. We want those negotiations to be brought to a successful conclusion by the summer.

The main instrument for preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, or the NPT. One hundred and eight-two states have renounced nuclear weapons by adhering to the treaty as non-nuclear weapons states, but serious difficulties remain. The non-compliers, such as Iraq and North Korea, clearly must be brought back into compliance with the obligations that they have accepted. Until Saddam Hussein made their work impossible, we strongly supported the work in Iraq of the UN special commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since then, no Government have done more to secure agreement in the UN Security Council for the new resolution setting out the way forward, Security Council resolution 1284. We shall vigorously press all states to support the full implementation of that resolution now that it has been agreed. The United Kingdom is also contributing through the European Union to ensure that North Korea returns to full compliance with its safeguards and obligations.

We have constantly made plain our belief that the non-adherers--Israel, India and Pakistan--should sign up to the NPT by destroying their nuclear weapons capability and accepting obligations as non-nuclear weapons states. However, they are firmly convinced that their security positions do not yet permit that course of action. Trying to improve their security positions is therefore a key concern for us. We are heartened by the new impetus in the middle east peace process. Conversely, we are disappointed by the serious tension in the relationship between India and Pakistan, especially over Kashmir, which, as we saw in the Kargil incident last year, could easily become a flash-point for a nuclear exchange. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North was right about that. We shall do all that we can to seek an improvement in that situation, while pressing India and Pakistan to sign the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and to participate constructively in negotiations for a fissile material cut-off treaty.

The United Kingdom is in a particularly good position to press the case for those treaties. We have not carried out a nuclear weapons test explosion since 1991. With France, we have not only signed but ratified the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. In 1995, we announced that we had ceased producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. The Government have already placed under international verification the reprocessing and enrichment operations that must be verified under any fissile material cut-off treaty. In short, we are practising what we preach.

Because of the importance that we attach to the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, we have made no secret of our extreme disappointment that the US Senate has rejected it. We very much welcome the

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Administration's refusal to accept that as the last word on the matter, and we shall continue to press for US ratification as soon as possible, along with ratification by Russia, China and all the other states whose ratification is essential to the treaty's coming into force. Similarly, at the conference on disarmament in Geneva, we are continuing to press for an early start to negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.

We shall work hard in the next few months to prepare for the conference of states that are party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in April and May. That treaty remains the cornerstone of international efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The vast majority of its parties remain fully committed to it. We agree with many of the non-nuclear weapon states that are also party to the treaty that want to push for faster progress towards nuclear disarmament. Here, too, the Government are practising what they preach.

I welcome the acknowledgment of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) of the sea change that has been brought about by the new Labour Government on such matters. Since the end of the cold war, we have reduced the number of our operationally available warheads by 50 per cent. We have taken steps to maintain our remaining nuclear forces at a reduced state of readiness. We have been completely transparent about our stocks of nuclear material, military as well as civil. Work is in hand to develop expertise at Aldermaston in verifying the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons, and we have made it clear that, when we are satisified with progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in those negotiations.

We have been trying to lead by example and our diplomats have been active and creative in trying to persuade other nuclear weapons states of the need for continuing progress in the right direction. The crucial issue is the future of the strategic arms reduction treaty process and the anti-ballistic missile treaty. There is a potential conflict of interests between two important considerations. On the one hand is the desirability of limiting defences against strategic ballistic missiles to provide the basis for continuing reductions in offensive, strategic nuclear forces. On the other hand is the possibility of defences against such missiles offering some protection against the consequences of their acquisition by new or rogue states that do not form part of established deterrent relationships. Such matters are complex and difficult, but I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Central and for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) about the dangers of unilateral responses to rogue states becoming a universal risk to humankind.

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The Government, therefore, much welcome the fact that the United States and Russia announced in June last year that they would begin discussions on a third strategic arms reduction treaty and the anti-ballistic missile treaty. We welcome the fact that such discussions have been proceeding intensively during the past few months and look forward to a satisfactory conclusion. We are also looking forward to engaging fully with our NATO allies in the review of alliance policy options on confidence and security-building measures, verification, non-proliferation, and arms control and disarmament. The alliance committed itself to that exercise at the Washington summit in April last year. That process is now being undertaken by responsible NATO bodies and we expect a report to NATO Ministers in December this year. Although we do not believe that the review should lead to fundamental changes in NATO's new strategic concept announced at the Washington summit, we hope that it will make a helpful and positive contribution to the way forward in such important arms control areas.

The Government are working extremely hard not only to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but to make progress towards our goal of the elimination of all such weapons. Ultimately, the achievement of both objectives is essential to long-term global security. Neither will be fully achieved without the other. In that respect, I very much welcome the setting up of the all-party group on such matters that is sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North. I welcome also the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley has taken up the mantle that her husband pursued extremely vigorously over his years in Parliament. It is good to have such a voice heard loud and clear.

There is almost universal agreement in the House, apart from some elements on the Opposition Benches, about a united and vigorous response by the Government to try to tackle the problems of global insecurity and the need to ensure that we have proper controls on the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. There is a great deal more to do, however, and we must work together to achieve such an outcome. The work is hard and tough but, as I have tried to demonstrate, the Government are pursuing such a mandate with great vigour, certainly with much more energy and diligence than that displayed by our predecessors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central said, it is important that we carry on the agenda and achieve a much safer world and, thereby, eliminate the possibility of the whole of humankind destroying itself and, with it, the environment and the very future of the planet.

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