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Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Council Tax

7.28 pm

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): It is my privilege to present the petition of Captain Burnett and other constituents from North East-Milton Keynes. The residents of North-East Milton Keynes are understandably incensed at the exponential increase in council tax over recent years, which has taken no cognisance of their ability to pay.

To lie upon the Table.
26 Oct 2005 : Column 424

7.29 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I am delighted to present a petition supported by thousands of my constituents, which was organised by Mr. Bustard of West Parley. It condemns the use of council tax as a stealth-wealth tax by this Government.

The petition

To lie upon the Table.

7.30 pm

Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I, too, wish to present a petition on council tax with signatures collected across North Cornwall:

To lie upon the Table.

7.31 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Coincidentally, I wish to present a remarkably similar petition on council tax on behalf of 156 constituents in Worthing and the surrounding area. They declare:

To lie upon the Table.
26 Oct 2005 : Column 425

7.32 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to raise the Hansard report of an exchange yesterday between the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. At column 184, the right hon. Lady told the hon. Member for Chesterfield, who had asked about looked-after children, that

Hansard then reported "Interruption", to which the right hon. Lady replied, "Yes." In fact, the hon. Member for Chesterfield, who is in the Chamber tonight, asked whether that would be a statutory requirement. He said, "Statutory?"

That is significant, because earlier today the Leader of the House, standing in for the Prime Minister, told the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy) that

Under the code, however, schools are required to have regard to the statutory code of practice on admissions. I wish to put on the record the fact that in reply to the word "Statutory?" the Secretary of State for Education and Skills said, "Yes." Today, however, the Leader of the House said something entirely different.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. That is not strictly a point of order for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman has managed to put on record his point about a possible discrepancy, which can now be pursued in other ways with which he is familiar.

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Non-Proliferation Treaty

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Cawsey.]

7.34 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to draw the attention of the House to the urgent need for international action to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Back in 1963, US President John F. Kennedy stated that he saw the possibility of 15, 20 or 25 nations having nuclear weapons in the 1970s. Quite a few present Members of the House will not be old enough to remember John Kennedy, but I am, and I remember the widespread appreciation at that time of the importance of preventing more and more states from acquiring nuclear weapons. Clearly, the more states that have nuclear weapons, the more likely it is that they will be used. It was in that climate that the non-proliferation treaty was conceived, negotiated and agreed—a time when there was a very real prospect of a rapid escalation in the number of states with nuclear weapons.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty—the NPT—came into force in 1970. At that time the only countries with nuclear weapons were the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom. Since then, India and Pakistan have acquired and tested nuclear weapons, Israel is believed to have a nuclear weapons capability, and North Korea has stated that it has manufactured nuclear weapons. Every new state with nuclear weapons is a blow to international security, but without the NPT the world would have become a much more dangerous place much sooner.

The Government rightly describe the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime. The NPT is built on three central pillars—first, preventing proliferation, by stopping new states acquiring nuclear weapons and stopping states that already have nuclear weapons acquiring more; secondly, obliging existing nuclear weapons states to disarm; and, thirdly, enabling nuclear technology to be used peacefully. The treaty is essentially a deal between those countries with nuclear weapons and those without. The non-nuclear states pledge not to acquire nuclear weapons, in return for which they get peaceful uses of nuclear energy, plus the promise of disarmament from the nuclear weapons states.

Nuclear technology and international politics do not stand still, so it is vital that the global regime for non-proliferation and disarmament can evolve and strengthen, in order to be fit for purpose. The NPT is therefore subject to a review conference every five years. There was such a conference in May this year, and one would have thought that if ever it was crucial that progress be made, it was at that 2005 review conference. After all, much had happened in the preceding five years.

For the first time a state, North Korea, had announced that it was withdrawing from the treaty. Two states, Libya and North Korea, had announced that they had been working on their own secret nuclear weapons programmes, and North Korea then claimed that it had manufactured nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency had found undeclared uranium-enrichment activity in Iran, and the A.Q. Khan trafficking network had been exposed.
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In the meantime, non-nuclear weapons states were frustrated at the slow progress on disarmament , and the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001 had thrown into alarmingly sharp relief the prospect of terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. Despite those developments, the review conference was a dreadful failure. The participants succumbed to wrangles over procedure and the conference concluded with no substantive agreement at all.

I raised the matter in the House in the summer Adjournment debate in July, and I was grateful for the reply that I received from the Government by way of a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade. He wrote that

However, my hon. Friend was keen to assure me in his letter that it is not unheard of for NPT review conferences to be unsuccessful, and that there are other forums where progress could be made. He pointed to the forthcoming United Nations millennium review summit in New York in September.

Hopes were indeed high for the millennium review summit. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had published a report entitled "In Larger Freedom" for decision at the summit by the world's leaders. The Secretary-General's report made key recommendations concerning all three pillars of the NPT. The G8 at Gleneagles issued a communiqué on non-proliferation, which welcomed the attention given to non-proliferation in the Secretary-General's report, and declared themselves ready to engage actively at the summit.

The Minister responsible for international security, who I am pleased to see in his place, was quite right when he said a week before the summit that it

The whole House should agree with that statement.

At the summit itself, the Prime Minister said in his address that

Of course, we had the statement by the head of the UK delegation to the NPT review conference, Ambassador John Freeman, on 5 May, which was also the date of the British general election. Speaking on behalf of the British Government to the diplomats in New York, he said:

But long before our Prime Minister got to his feet, it had become clear that no progress would be made. In fact, the sections of the Secretary-General's report on disarmament and non-proliferation had been removed entirely. I cannot exaggerate the disappointment that must have been felt worldwide by those who follow these issues.
26 Oct 2005 : Column 428

For their part, the UK Government have also expressed disappointment, and in the EU statement circulated at the world summit it was claimed that

on the key issues of non-proliferation and disarmament.

If my hon. Friend could elaborate for us on what happened at the summit, I would be most grateful. Why was no progress made? Why were the sections of the Secretary-General's report dealing with disarmament and non-proliferation removed entirely? How was it that the international community once again

as Kofi Annan himself put it? I hope that my hon. Friend will take this opportunity to provide us with a full statement of what actually happened in New York last month.

This summer on 7 July we had the London suicide bombings, and earlier this evening the House gave a Second Reading to the Terrorism Bill. There is rightly a focus on terrorism. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the fact that a nuclear weapon, even a small one, has the capacity to kill thousands of people. The growth of international terrorism makes the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons an increasingly alarming one, and that is surely a reason why Governments should be striving harder for progress.

When I had the good fortune to address the House before the summer recess, I took the opportunity to set out five proposals for progress: the universal adoption of the International Atomic Energy Agency's additional protocol; incentives for countries to forgo fuel cycle facilities; a fissile material cut-off treaty; entry into force of the comprehensive test ban treaty, which is still not in operation, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows better than I do; and disarmament. Disarmament is one of the three pillars of the NPT, and it is essential that progress is made on the elimination of all nuclear weapons as agreed by the NPT states, including the UK, at the review conference in 2000. That is what we signed up to.

The current security climate has rightly led to calls for a tougher non-proliferation regime for non-nuclear weapons states. However, while we nuclear weapons states are perceived as disengaged from our side of the NPT deal, there is a danger that our insistence on non-proliferation will not carry adequate credibility with the non-nuclear states. In that context, I gently put it to my hon. Friend that a decision to replace Trident would further weaken the credibility of our case for stronger non-proliferation measures and would be seen as yet more evidence that the countries that had nuclear weapons at the start of the NPT are not prepared to deliver on their side of the bargain.

It is not contentious to say that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty has made our world a safer place than it otherwise could have been. Equally, however, no one disputes the fact that the NPT regimes desperately need to be strengthened and urgently need to be updated. Will my hon. Friend set out as fully as he can the Government's view on why things went so badly wrong at the millennium summit as regards nuclear weapons? Will he also set out the work that the
26 Oct 2005 : Column 429
Government are doing to push matters forward in helping to get the world back on track on nuclear proliferation and disarmament?

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