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Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Before the House adjourns for the recess, I ask hon. Members to consider the need for action to prevent nuclear proliferation, following the disastrous failure of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference in New York two months ago.

The NPT came into force 35 years ago and is built on three pillars: first, it prevents proliferation by stopping states that do not have nuclear weapons acquiring them, and by preventing states that already have nuclear weapons from acquiring more; secondly, it obliges states that have nuclear weapons to disarm; and, thirdly, it enables nuclear technology to be used peacefully.

The NPT is subject to a review conference every five years. The review conference in 2000 was widely viewed as a success—it adopted a 13-step programme for the total elimination of the nuclear arsenals of the nuclear weapons states.

If it was important to make progress in 2000, a quick glance at events since then tells us that it was crucial to make progress in 2005: in December 2003, Libya revealed that it had been working for years on a secret nuclear weapons programme; in January 2003, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT; and in February 2005, North Korea announced that it had manufactured nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the International Atomic Energy Agency has found and declared uranium-enrichment activity in Iran and the AQ Khan trafficking network has been exposed. Despite some progress on disarmament, the UN has stated that the world contains approximately 27,000 nuclear weapons. World awareness of the importance of keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists has risen exponentially since the review conference in 2000.

The non-proliferation treaty regimes have not kept pace with the world situation, and the conference on disarmament and the UN disarmament commission have both been fruitless for years. Against that background, one would have expected a degree of urgency as delegates met for the 2005 NPT review conference. It was an opportunity to put things back on track, to ensure that the tools that we have to prevent proliferation work, to impose disarmament and to enable peaceful nuclear technology that is fit for purpose, but that is not what happened. Nearly two thirds of the 26 days of the conference were taken up with deliberations over logistics—it took 10 days to agree an agenda. Rather than agreeing vital measures to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, the conference concluded with no substantive agreement whatsoever.

The NPT was an agreement between the five states that already had nuclear weapons and the states that did not. The non-nuclear states pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons, in return for which the nuclear weapons states committed to disarming their nuclear weapons capabilities. The fact that that deal at the heart of the NPT remains unmet is an important part of the background to the difficulties encountered at the review
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conference in May. The nuclear weapons states are seen to be half-hearted about their side of the NPT bargain and to have resisted attempts to focus attention on their disarmament obligations.

The current security climate has understandably led to calls for a tougher non-proliferation regime for non-nuclear weapons states. While we nuclear weapons states are perceived as disengaged from our side of the NPT deal, however, there is the danger that our insistence on non-proliferation will not carry adequate credibility with the non-nuclear states.

The stalemate in New York was depressing and alarming in equal measure, but it did not detract from the importance of the NPT and the need to strengthen the NPT's mechanisms and operations. We must make progress in many areas—several credible proposals have been suggested, and I shall briefly outline five of them.

First, we must achieve the universal adoption of the IAEA's additional protocol, which is designed to ensure that states cannot divert fissile material to secret weapons programmes. In the parlance used in the field, the additional protocol must become the new standard for verifying compliance with non-proliferation commitments.

Secondly, we should adopt the IAEA proposals for incentives for countries to forgo the development of fuel-cycle facilities. The supply of the necessary fuel for peaceful energy uses would be guaranteed, possibly with the IAEA as guarantor, in return for which states would pledge not to develop domestic uranium-enrichment or plutonium-separation capabilities.

Thirdly, we must secure a fissile material cut-off treaty to halt the further production of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium, and I welcome the UK Government's pledge to work for progress in that field.

Fourthly, we must see the early introduction of the comprehensive test ban treaty, pending which all countries must affirm their commitment to a moratorium on testing. To the Government's credit, the UK signed that treaty in 1998, but it can come into force only when all five nuclear weapons states, and all states with civil nuclear reactors, have signed. Eleven such states, including China and the United States, have still not made that commitment.

Fifthly, disarmament is one of the three pillars of the non-proliferation treaty, and it is essential that progress be made on the elimination of all nuclear weapons, as agreed by the NPT states, including the UK, at the review conference in 2000.

Before the House is due to return from the summer recess, there will be a meeting of Heads of State and Government and a high plenary level event at the UN General Assembly in New York in September. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has published a report for decision by the world's leaders at that summit, which makes key recommendations concerning all three pillars of the NPT. In this month's communiqué on non-proliferation, the G8 welcomed the attention given to that subject in the Secretary-General's report and declared themselves ready to engage actively at the September summit.

I am glad that my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, the Deputy Leader of the House, is replying to the debate, and I hope that he will convey this request
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to his colleagues in the Government: I urge the British Government to do all they can to secure a positive outcome for the people of this country and the world.

6.6 pm

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise three local issues that affect the quality of life in my constituency. They are not unique to my constituency; they probably affect all of us. Indeed, some of them have been raised before.

The first is the planning system, and how it applies to Travellers, in particular, who want to develop encampments, especially in the green belt. My constituency—and, I am sure, the constituencies of many other hon. Members—is almost under siege from multiple applications by Travellers. The villages of Crockenhill, Swanley, Hextable, West Kingsdown, Knockholt and Halstead have been inundated with applications.

The applications are not, in the most part, made by those who like to claim that they enjoy the itinerant lifestyle, in which they may be impoverished but are free to pursue their own way of life, moving on from site to site. In the main, when investigated, the applicants turn out to have formidable assets and bank accounts, and in many cases to own property in the constituency already. They are simply people who are trying to build on the green belt where farmland happens to be cheap—precisely because it is in the green belt, so people should not be able to build on it—in an area with easy access to the motorway system.

Our district councils seem almost defenceless now. When they rule against Travellers their decisions are often overturned by the Secretary of State on appeal. The cases are prolonged by legal posturing. Many of the applications are retrospective, and those applicants will do everything possible to prolong the determination process. Now we are told that they are covered by a definition of Travellers as some sort of special reserved minority group.

I have raised that issue before, and I raised it specifically during business questions three or four weeks ago. I am sure that it is only an oversight that the natural courtesy of the Leader of the House and his deputy has not led to my receiving a reply. The Government have undertaken to review the planning system in relation to Travellers, and I asked when we would see the results of that review, and when we could expect the Government to come to the aid of district councils to protect our residents against those who simply want to abuse the normal planning procedures and the green belt.

The second matter to which I want to draw the attention of the House is one that I find hard to describe. It is a related issue, concerning the subdivision and marketing of plots of farmland to the naive, who purchase them at very low cost under the mistaken impression that they may one day be able to obtain planning permission on them.

There are two examples in my constituency—a field opposite London road in the village of Dunton Green, and a field opposite Hale Oak road in the village of Sevenoaks Weald. Clearly, unscrupulous operators are marketing those plots to the naive, and I do not think that we can simply leave everything to the principle of
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caveat emptor. So far as I understand it, the only Government response has been to empower councils to serve article 4 notices direct on the land, so that anyone who visits the plot that they are about to purchase or considering purchasing will be aware that the district council is unlikely ever to grant planning permission on it. That is not enough. What happens now is that the plots, once bought, are staked out and sub-divided. Different entrances are created from the road into the field concerned, and before we know where we are local residents, instead of looking at a piece of farmland, look at what appears to be the start of a building site. It seems that the law needs updating, and, if the Minister cannot answer the point tonight, I should be grateful if he wrote to me.

I have nine railway stations in my constituency, some of them major, such as Sevenoaks and Swanley, others smaller and well used to commute to London, and others smaller still and unmanned. A useful report published today by the National Audit Office looks at the condition of our railway stations, and I am speaking not of our major terminuses but of the ordinary, humdrum stations that each of us has in our constituencies. There are two issues.

Unmanned stations seem rapidly to be disappearing into a state of disrepair and vandalism. The issue is: who is responsible for them? The length of the leases given to train operating companies is clearly not sufficient for them to invest substantial sums in the upkeep and improvement of the security of stations. I am at a loss to understand who is responsible for that. Is it Network Rail, or the Strategic Rail Authority, or the Department of Transport? I should be grateful if the Deputy Leader commented on that.

Related to that, and far more alarming, is the proposal by South Eastern Trains to de-man—if that is the right word—some of the stations that are manned at the moment. The proposal is to remove ticket office staff altogether and convert stations that were manned into unmanned stations. I must ask whether the House considers this the right time to be removing staff from stations. To whom are people supposed to report suspicious packages if there are no staff on the station? From whom can they seek assistance, particularly if they are women travelling alone at night who may need it? Again, an excellent report from the NAO, which I commend to the House, raises that issue of who is responsible for the upkeep and security of our railway station network, and I should be grateful if the Deputy Leader answered that point.

6.12 pm

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