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The Government are committed to an effective IAEA. We do not accept that it has insufficient resources to carry out its responsibility, and we will continue to make significant voluntary contributions to it to ensure that we provide it with appropriate support. This year’s settlement provided a real increase to the budget of 1.4 per cent.

Richard Younger-Ross: The Minister mentioned making progress with the NPT, and that we have only one system—Trident. The Government document on the issue said:

having just one weapons-based system—

If the Minister says that she is in favour of progressing the NPT, and the Government document says that they are in favour of further nuclear disarmament, are any of the weapons systems that we want to replace up for negotiation?

Meg Munn: We have set out our replacement for the Trident system and design. That is what we are discussing. Our position is that disarmament should be multilateral, and I shall come on both to address what we consider to be the important next steps and to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s questions about our plans moving towards 2010.

Let me just outline the key components. First, we will continue to call for significant further reductions in the major Russian and US nuclear arsenals. We hope that the existing bilateral treaties will be succeeded by further clear commitments to significantly lower warhead numbers, including tactical as well as strategic nuclear weapons. We are clear that when it becomes useful to include in any negotiations the 1 per cent. of the world’s nuclear weapons that belong to the UK, we will willingly do so.

Secondly, we must press on with the comprehensive test ban treaty and with the fissile material cut-off treaty. Both treaties limit in real and practical ways the ability of states that are party to them to develop new weapons and expand their nuclear capabilities. The treaties play a very powerful symbolic role, too, signalling to the rest of the world that the race for more and bigger weapons is over, and that the direction from now on will be down not up. In other words, they are exactly the sort of

that article 6 requires us to negotiate. That is why we are so keen for those countries that have not yet done so to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty, and why we continue to work hard for the start of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty in Geneva.

Thirdly, we should begin now to build deeper relationships on disarmament between nuclear weapon states. For the UK’s part, we have made it clear that we are ready and willing to engage with other members of the P5 on transparency and confidence-building measures.

Finally, we have also announced a series of unilateral activities that the UK will undertake as a “disarmament laboratory”. We will participate in a new project by the International Institute for Strategic Studies on the practical steps required for the elimination of nuclear weapons,
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and we will undertake further detailed work at the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment on the nuts and bolts of nuclear disarmament. That work will examine three discrete issues related to the verification of disarmament, the authentication of warheads, chain of custody problems in sensitive nuclear weapons facilities, and monitored storage of dismantled nuclear weapons.

I shall now deal with the other points that Members have raised. We are committed to all the NPT’s three pillars: disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear power. The former Foreign Secretary set out that commitment very clearly in her speech in Washington, and if Members have not read it, I commend it to them. The UK is showing leadership. We are taking forward the practical work that I have just outlined, and we are working with EU partners on proposals to make withdrawal from the NPT more difficult. It is crucial for international security that states cannot just walk away and develop nuclear weapons. We are also working with Germany and the Netherlands on a uranium bond proposal that would offer countries wishing to develop their own civil nuclear industries guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel in return for agreed safeguards.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North raised the issue of Mordechai Vanunu. My hon. Friend will appreciate that we are talking about an Israeli citizen in Israel. However, I can assure him that during Mr. Vanunu’s detention and subsequent to his release, we have raised the issue of the restrictions on him with the Israeli authorities.

In article six, there are two key words: “good faith”. The UK’s record is one of good-faith disarmament. That is why we are recognised as the most forward-leaning nuclear weapons state. I have described today our determination to reinvigorate the global approach to nuclear disarmament, and the practical steps that we are taking to help achieve a world free from nuclear weapons. It should be clear that this Government are acting, and will continue to act, in the utmost good faith in fulfilling our disarmament obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

10.56 am

Sitting suspended.

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Saudi Arabia

11 am

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to debate Anglo-Saudi relations under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. Before I start, I should state that I am a member of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia. I am pleased to see that our chairman, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan), found the time to attend the debate, and I welcome him.

There are 20,000 British citizens living and working in Saudi Arabia, which is by far our largest export market in the middle east. The Saudi royal family have close contact with our own. I am pleased that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office acknowledged the country’s importance, and that quite a number of Ministers have visited Riyadh during the past few years.

I have studied the middle east during the two years that I have been an MP, and I have been increasingly interested in Saudi Arabia’s role in that part of the world. I thank Prince Sultan al-Saud, the head of the political desk at the Saudi embassy, and His Highness Prince Mohammed, the ambassador, whom I have met on a number of occasions. They are great representatives of their country and do a tremendous job here in London. I thank them for that and for the assistance that they have given me.

Saudi Arabia is a key strategic ally, and one that is growing in influence. It has displaced the United States as well as the historical Arab diplomatic heavyweight, Egypt, as the regional power broker in the middle east. For example, at the 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut, the Saudis first proposed their peace plan for the Israel-Palestine conflict and managed to secure the support of the other Arab League members in that extremely important initiative. I shall discuss it later, but needless to say, it offers recognition and peace to Israel if it withdraws back to its pre-1967 borders.

The Saudis have also been involved in trying to bring Hamas and Fatah together in Palestine, applying pressure to get those two increasingly conflicting and hostile groups to work with one another to ensure peace in the Gaza strip and throughout Palestine. Saudi Arabia has also tried to create peace between the Sunnis and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

It is not well known that the Saudi king, Abdullah, has been instrumental in trying to convince the President of Sudan to accept a multinational force in Darfur. That is encouraging. As the Minister will know, in the ’70s, ’80s and even the early ’90s, Saudi Arabia was not a big diplomatic player, tending to focus instead on domestic politics. Considering all the incredibly important initiatives that it is pursuing, not just near its borders but in other countries throughout the middle east, it is clear that it is playing an increasing role in negotiations and diplomacy. Saudi Arabia is a moderate, stable ally of the UK and a key strategic influence that we must cultivate.

I thank the Foreign Office—I do not normally go out of my way to do so—for its initiative on one issue. The United Kingdom is the first Christian country to organise an official Hajj delegation to assist the 20,000 British Muslims who go to Mecca every year. FCO staff have met members of the Muslim community at the Islamic centre in Regent’s park.

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Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I am glad that my hon. Friend touched on the issue of religion. Does he share my concern that Saudi Arabia, mostly through the religious police, continues to repress religious minorities, not least Christians? They are mostly expatriate Christians, but also Saudis who have converted to Christianity from Islam. Is he aware that under Saudi law, people can be put to death for changing their views, minds and hearts about what religion to follow? If they leave Islam to convert to Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, they can be put to death. Will he condemn that policy?

Daniel Kawczynski: I was rather hoping to concentrate on the positive side of our relations with Saudi Arabia. My hon. Friend has thrown me something of a googly, but I thank him for his intervention. Of course we regret persecution of Christians anywhere in the world. I know that the FCO does its utmost in many countries to voice concerns where there is systematic persecution of Christians.

Mark Pritchard: I did not wish to throw my hon. Friend a googly—I was hoping that it would be a straight ball, which he usually hits to the boundary for a six—but it was a serious point. Last year, four east African Christians were detained for more than a month in very poor conditions and then deported, which has caused severe hardship to their families, as they were in Saudi Arabia raising money to send back home. Does not an inconsistency lie at the heart of the Saudi Government? Whether in Kosovo or elsewhere, they fund the building of mosques throughout Europe, where we allow religious freedom, but they will not allow even small groups to meet for Christian worship in Saudi Arabia.

Daniel Kawczynski: If my hon. Friend has any examples of people being persecuted because of their Christian faith, I shall be happy to discuss them on his behalf with His Highness Prince Sultan at the embassy.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): It is right and proper to raise the question of persecution in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, but I point out that Saudi Arabia is a young and growing democracy. This country, a long-standing democracy, has persecuted people because of religion—we need look no further than Northern Ireland.

Daniel Kawczynski: I concur totally. It is true that we in the west like to think our values and codes are relevant throughout the world, but we must understand that different countries operate differently, and their societies are at different levels of development. We cannot compare them with us according to our western values and principles.

Mark Pritchard: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Daniel Kawczynski: If he will allow me, I shall give way in a moment. The Foreign Office meets the Muslim community at the Islamic centre in Regent’s park, the Saudi ambassador attends and the FCO provides tremendous help in sorting out the logistics of
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ensuring that 20,000 British Muslims have a safe and secure trip to Mecca. I thank the Foreign Office for that work.

To turn briefly to the defence industry, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Saudis for entrusting us with their security. Over the years, they have spent a great deal of money purchasing British defence machinery. Tens of thousands of British jobs depend on those exports. We have secured exports worth billions of pounds to this country.

Margaret Thatcher, the then Conservative Prime Minister—I have to put in a plug for her—did a tremendous job in the ’80s on securing those contracts, as did her Ministers. I am pleased to see that the Labour Administration have continued such important negotiations in trying to secure further contracts. In June, I believe, the Secretary of State for Defence went to Saudi Arabia to discuss a contract for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets. I should be grateful if the Minister gave me an update on how those negotiations are going. The contract is worth billions of pounds; securing the sale of those 72 Typhoon jets would be a tremendous boost to our economy.

I shall come to our other opportunities with Saudi Arabia, but I should first say that the Prime Minister should appoint a special trade envoy to the kingdom. He has appointed quite a few envoys recently; there is even an envoy for forests, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), whom I saw speaking in this Chamber the other day.

Why should the Prime Minister appoint an envoy to Saudi Arabia? Well, he has appointed an outsider, now Lord Jones of Birmingham, as global trade envoy. One can generally be pleased with that appointment, although I have some issues with the individual. The general concept of having somebody from outside in such a position is a good one. We need a special envoy to Saudi Arabia because of its huge size and the huge potential of our contracts with it. We need an outside expert who knows Saudi Arabia extremely well; who knows the culture and has a long-established network in the country.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has referred to Comrade Jones, as we know him, who is doing a wonderful job for us. The hon. Gentleman has also mentioned cultural links, and it is important that we recognise their effect on jobs. Will he also mention sporting links? The Saudi people have a great love of horse racing and football.

Daniel Kawczynski: I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because he is one of the very few socialists whom I genuinely like—[Laughter.]

Mr. Devine: Miss Begg, can that be struck from the record?

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Saudi Arabians participate greatly in horse racing in our country. They are also becoming better at football; I wish them every success in the World cup. We look forward to their continuing sporting links with our country.

I come back to my point, which I make seriously to the Minister. If the Prime Minister is to start appointing outsiders as envoys, he should please consider having a special envoy—if not to Saudi Arabia, then at least to the middle east. Such a person could be responsible for nurturing trade with those vital countries.

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I take the Minister back to 1990, when we first saw tremendous co-operation from Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf war. She showed herself to be a great beacon of stability and hosted tens of thousands of our troops on her territory. That was not easy to sell domestically, given the nature of the country, yet she realised at the time the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder with Britain, following the United Nations Security Council resolutions and making sure that Saddam Hussein was expelled from Kuwait.

Mark Pritchard: My hon. Friend has mentioned Saudis on Saudi soil, and obviously that is logical. As a fellow Shropshire Member of Parliament, may I ask him whether he is aware of Saudis on Shropshire soil? Some 40 or 50 Saudi nationals are training at the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering at RAF Cosford in my constituency in the county of Shropshire. Does he join me in welcoming those people to Shropshire and hoping that that trade and exchange will continue?

Daniel Kawczynski: I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend’s statement. What he has mentioned is another example of how much the Saudi Arabians entrust us with the training of their pilots in the defence industry.

The Saudis not only hosted us in 1990 but participated with the allied troops in liberating Kuwait. However, if we move 13 years forward to the second Gulf war of 2003, we see a slightly different situation. Having spoken to my Saudi friends, I know that Saudi Arabia warned against the invasion. They lobbied heavily and extensively. They warned the allies not to invade Iraq as they felt that it would lead to certain problems down the line. Being local experts and knowing the area as they do, they also suggested that we, having taken over the country and occupied it in March-April 2003, should keep some of the principal state apparatus intact to manage the society and country effectively.

That, of course, was not done—primarily because the Americans wished to start anew. I regret that, and feel that Saudi Arabia should not have been sidelined. Her advice should have been clearly taken on, both in the run-up to the war and following the subsequent occupation. We could have avoided many problems if we had listened more carefully to our Saudi allies before, during and after the invasion.

The invasion has left our friends, the Saudis, with a tremendous headache, as they now neighbour such a volatile and unstable country. The Minister will know that Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq is longer than 900 miles. The Saudis have spent tens and tens of millions of pounds on constructing what is in effect a Berlin wall on that frontier and trying to police those hundreds of miles of desert with barbed wire fences and radar to stop the insurgents from coming across the boundary and infiltrating Saudi Arabia.

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