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Mr. William Cash (Stone): Further to that previous point of order, Mr. Speaker. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said, it has been extremely good of you to give us so much time for questions.
Mr. Secretary Milburn, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mr. John Hutton and Jane Kennedy, presented a Bill to restate and amend the law about adoption and amend the Children Act 1989: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 66].
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): I am grateful for the opportunity to open this debate, which is based on the report on weapons of mass destruction published by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in August 2000. I am pleased to say that it is a unanimous report. I am very grateful to my colleagues on the Committee for the dedication, diligence and teamwork that went into producing it.
The inquiry was wide ranging, covering national missile defence, the major nuclear treaties, conventions on chemical and biological weapons and control regimes. We took evidence from academics and the Foreign Secretary, and received a vast amount of written evidence from a wide variety of sources. We visited the disarmament conference in Geneva, the United Nations in New York and our American counterparts in Washington, and we drew on the experience of our specialist advisers, to whom I pay tribute. We also had in mind the fact that the subject had previously been tackled by the Committee in the 1994-95 Session.
The inquiry was timely, partly because of the plans for national missile defence, which were being considered by President Clinton. In addition, there were new Presidents in the Russian Federation and the United States and various review conferences were approaching, such as the conference on biological and toxin weapons this year and the non-proliferation treaty conference in 2005.
Arms control is not in the headlines as much as it was during the cold war in the 1970s and 1980s--indeed, our visit to Geneva was extremely depressing, as the conference has not been able even to agree an agenda--yet the subject is of vital interest to the future of mankind. The threats are now of a different nature. The regional threats between India and Pakistan, the middle east--including Iran and Iraq--and North Korea are a concern. Most worrying is the new scale of threats from terrorists and other non-state parties. I think in particular of the 1995 sarin attack in Tokyo. We were all alarmed by the Foreign Office statement, which said:
It is not my task to summarise the whole report, which I commend to the House. Instead, I shall single out key recommendations. The Government should make renewed efforts to break the deadlock on the FMCT negotiations, which have yet to start in Geneva, and should urge the United States President to resubmit the CTBT to the Senate. They should use their position in the G8 and the European Union to accelerate progress in helping the Russian Government to dispose of their surplus nuclear materials.
The key tests for the chemical weapons convention will be whether it can effectively tackle states and parties who are possibly cheating. We highlighted the delays in the implementation of the inspection regime and recommended that the Government urge the United States Government to rescind their power of presidential veto over challenge inspections. We noted that the biological and toxin weapons convention, which entered into force in 1975, did not include a verification process, which severely undermines its credibility. Again, the United States argued for the right to refuse intrusive inspections on grounds of commercial confidentiality. We urge the Government to impress on the United States that a strong verification procedure is a viable goal, and to exert maximum efforts to that end.
Understandably, the greater part of the substantial press comment on our report related to national missile defence, on which President Clinton set out four criteria: assessments of the threat; the arms control and strategic environment; the cost; and the technical assessment. The Committee questioned whether national missile defence, as it was then called, was necessarily the most appropriate and effective response. We learned that the threat of rogue states--later to be called states of concern--was exaggerated and hyped. Some people claimed that there were commercial pressures; others referred to the failure of the United States to recognise the positive changes in, for example, the Korean peninsula.
We learned that the NMD could be destabilising, in particular because of the threat to the anti-ballistic missile treaty and our relations with Russia and China, and of the danger of undermining arrangements that are based on mutually assured destruction. There were doubts about technical feasibility because of the failure of tests and questions such as whether the missiles could easily be countered by measures such as decoys. In addition, the temptation towards unilateralism might give the United States a false sense of security.
The Committee asked whether the additional security that NMD offers outweighs the negative impact of its deployment on strategic arms control. We were aware that it poses acute dilemmas for the United Kingdom. To refuse a request by the United States for the use or upgrading of Fylingdales would have profound consequences for relations between this country and the United States. We therefore recommended that the Government articulate the strong concerns about NMD in the UK; that they encourage the United States to seek other ways in which to reduce the perceived threats; and that they impress on the United States that it cannot necessarily assume unqualified UK co-operation in the event of its unilaterally abrogating the ABM treaty.
A number of significant changes have taken place since we published our report. I must emphasise that from now on I shall give personal views, based, I hope, on what the Committee would broadly wish me to say. I cannot give its opinions because it has not had the chance to reconsider the issues. There have been serious developments--especially with the advent of President Bush--that have implications for NMD. I still have profound doubts that it is the most appropriate and effective response to the clear threats that exist. It is preferable to address those by building strong international non-proliferation regimes by giving economic, political and military incentives to dissuade countries from developing missiles. However, the signals that we are receiving from the new Administration indicate that they are determined to go ahead. There appears to be strong consensus in the Administration and across parties in Congress. The Administration's position is, perhaps, indicated by the choice of Donald Rumsfeld, with his background, as Secretary of Defence.
If that is so, we in the UK and Europe have two options: to protest or to engage in dialogue with the new Administration. We have to consider which will give us greater leverage. Simple criticism of the desire of the United States to defend itself against threats will be wholly counterproductive. The starting point is that the US is a key friend and ally of this country. It is of the utmost importance that our relationship should be a key priority and that it should be preserved. Nevertheless, friendship involves honest assessments and a willingness to point out the dangers. As a start, we must propose a joint threat assessment by our Government and that of the US relating to the ballistic missile threat from rogue states.