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Mike Gapes: I cannot answer that question. The Committee's report was not a detailed report on Trident. The Defence Committee made a detailed inquiry on that issue and asked a number of questions. It got some information from the Government as a response, but such matters need to be pursued by my hon. Friend through other channels rather than through me.

There are one or two other points of difference. The Government rejected some of our recommendations on chemical and biological weapons, but I will not go into that now. They said that they would only consider-rather than advocate-the inclusion in future international agreements of a defined set of "disagreeable consequences" that would act as a deterrent to states flouting their commitments or withdrawing. I have already given the example of North Korea.

Overall, although the Committee has not necessarily reached a collective decision, we are pleased at the number of recommendations that we made with which the Government agreed. I am also pleased that through "The Road to 2010" document, the conference that was held last September and other developments, the Government are taking our suggestions seriously. Just on 15 February, the Committee received a detailed letter from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office setting out responses to recommendations that we had made. That letter gave further information and updated us on the developments in the period since the original response was published last August. That is all very welcome.

The world is at a crucial moment. If the non-proliferation treaty review conference is a success and the resetting of relations between the United States and Russia leads to significant reductions in their nuclear arsenals, and if at the same time there is a united international response through the United Nations Security Council, with China coming on board, to Iran's breach of its obligations under the NPT, we will send a clear signal about the importance of the 1968 non-proliferation treaty, which came into force 40 years ago, in 1970. This is a very important year. If, however, the NPT conference is a failure and we do not get effective international measures against Iran, we could be in for a very dangerous and difficult time and the number of nuclear weapons states could significantly increase during the rest of this decade.

3.1 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Having many more years ago than I like to recall co-authored a book at the Institute for Strategic Studies, as it then was, on the international arms trade, and having subsequently had an abiding and deep concern about non-proliferation issues, I am delighted that the House has found time at the end of this Parliament to debate the Foreign Affairs Committee report on non-proliferation. As this is almost certainly the last report by this Committee that will be debated in the House, I would like to place it on the record that the volume and quality of Foreign Affairs Committee reports that we have presented to the House during this Parliament owe much to the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), who has taken us successfully and effectively through a very considerable number of highly complex and important inquiries, of which this is one. On behalf of the Committee, I express my gratitude to him.

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This morning, I heard on the radio-other hon. Members may have heard the same report-that one of our sister Committees, the Defence Committee, in a report published today, has panned its Department, the Ministry of Defence, for inadequate co-operation. Indeed, I think that the Committee accused the Department of obfuscation in its dealings with the Committee, in the context, I think, of a report on defence procurement. Therefore, I would like to say to the Minister that, for my part, the Foreign Secretary's 34-page response to our report was extremely informative and extremely detailed, and provided a justifiably serious response to what I believe is a weighty and significant report by the Foreign Affairs Committee. I express my appreciation to the ministerial team and the FCO officials for the content and detail of their response.

I shall focus my remarks on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but in doing so, I want to make it clear that, historically and in reality, the one proven weapon of mass destruction has been conventional weapons, and of course conventional weapons have been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people in the grim conflicts of the two world wars in the last century and in many other conflicts. Therefore, although I do not have time to deal at great length with conventional weapons proliferation, and I want to focus on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, I want to put down a clear marker on the key importance of preventing proliferation and trying to reduce the proliferation of conventional weapons also.

It is fair to say that, not too many years ago, it was possible to look at the weapons of mass destruction global picture with a degree of guarded optimism. One might have even used the expression "an approach to sunlit uplands", but that might have been going a bit too far. However, a few years ago, one could have reflected on the fact that major international treaties across the board were in place. They covered strategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, non-proliferation and a comprehensive test ban.

On top of that, the cold war had been brought to an end and countries such as South Africa and Libya had taken themselves deliberately out of the nuclear weapons business. The gloomy predictions that I well remember and other hon. Members will recall were made in the 1950s and '60s-that by the end of the 20th century there would be perhaps 20-plus nuclear weapons states-had been shown not to have been realised.

Today, however, a few years later, those sunlit uplands, if ever they were so, are something of a mirage, and we have every ground to be increasingly concerned about the risks and dangers of weapons of mass destruction proliferation taking place. We must therefore heighten our efforts to reverse that deteriorating position.

Let me start with biological weapons. Those of us who have the privilege of representing our constituents would do well to remind people that this is not an arcane theoretical area. If we ever want a vivid reminder of the nature of the threat that we face, we have only to look at the natural world. We have only to look at epidemics such as SARS-severe acute respiratory syndrome-or swine flu to see the rapidity with which viruses can be carried around the globe and infect people at a very considerable rate, because of modern
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international travel and mass transport systems. I hope that that brings it home to people generally that this is an area of enormously high risk.

Against that, however, we still have no verification and no enforcement provisions attached to the biological weapons convention. In my view, the decision of the previous, Bush junior Administration to torpedo the verification protocol to the biological weapons convention-a protocol that took some seven years to negotiate-was a very irresponsible act. I understand that the Bush Administration felt strongly that they had the biological science commercial interests of the US to try to protect. I understand also that it is possible to pick holes in the terms of that verification protocol. However, given that this is such an important area and given the total absence of any verification, it surely was a subject on which half a loaf would have been infinitely better than nothing at all, and nothing at all is what we are left with today.

Given the extreme difficulty of detecting biological weapons, coupled with the extreme lethality of some of them, I have long taken the view that they represent every bit as much of a threat to populations around the world as nuclear weapons. I urge the Government to continue to do all they can to produce enforcement and verification provisions for the biological weapons convention.

On chemical weapons, the Arms Control Association says that 16 countries still have an offensive chemical weapons capability. The Government response clearly brought out the risks that we are still exposed to from chemical weapons. It refers to seven states that remain outside the provisions of the chemical weapons convention and that are assessed to be holders of chemical weapons: Israel, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, Angola, Somalia and Burma. It also quite rightly refers to the fact that a considerable number of countries that have acceded to the chemical weapons convention are still failing to comply with its provisions.

The Government response brings out the fact that there is a real threat to meeting the 2012 global deadline for the destruction of existing chemical weapons stockpiles. It rightly brings out the fact that the US has still destroyed only 60 per cent. of its chemical weapons and that the Russians are lagging even further behind, having destroyed only 35 per cent. of their stocks. On the destruction of Saddam Hussein's stockpile of chemical weapons in Iraq, it makes the interesting point that a deadline has not even been set.

I therefore want to put one key question to the Minister. On the vital issue of the challenge inspection provisions under the chemical weapons convention, have the current American Administration rescinded, or given an undertaking to rescind, the lamentable presidential veto on inspections, imposed by the Bush Administration? On the chemical weapons front, I hope that the Government continue to do their utmost to secure universal compliance with the chemical weapons convention and full adherence to the provisions of that important measure.

I turn now to the nuclear weapons aspect of weapons of mass destruction. I have referred to what I believe to be the deteriorating position. In the far east, there has been no progress on the six-party talks with North Korea. As long as North Korea remains a nuclear weapons state, there is a real risk of a breakout of
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nuclear proliferation in that part of the world. North Korea's near neighbour Japan already has a highly developed ballistic missile capability, although it is for civilian purposes only. Unhappily, India and Pakistan still rigidly adhere to the belief that they both need to possess nuclear weapons, and there seems to be no willingness on either side to retreat from that position.

As we come further westwards, there is Iran. Whatever the talk from Iran, and whatever encouragement it gives us from time to time to believe that it is willing to expose itself to inspections and engage in dialogue, the reality is that the remorseless, consistent trend is towards a nuclear weapons capability. That poses the profound danger of nuclear proliferation in that already fraught part of the world.

The forthcoming successor to the START-strategic arms reduction treaty-negotiations between Russia and the US should have started by now. Indeed, when the Government responded to our report, they were hopeful that the negotiations would begin before the START 1 treaty expired in December last year. We hope that the negotiations will reach a conclusion, and it would be helpful if that was before the start of the non-proliferation treaty review. We earnestly hope that the review will achieve success and does not end in dismal failure, which would be a serious reverse.

I want now to concentrate on one significant group of nuclear weapons. Since our report was published in June last year, sub-strategic nuclear weapons have come back into the area of possible significant negotiation. Of all the nuclear arms control treaties that have been entered into since nuclear weapons were developed, the most significant is the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty of 1987.

The treaty had three crucial points of significance. First, it eliminated a very sizeable class of nuclear weapons-ground-based cruise missile-launched and ballistic missile-launched nuclear weapons. There was a huge range of these weapons, which covered ranges of 5,500 km down to 500 km.

The second point of significance was that the elimination of that group of weapons was of enormous benefit to us in Europe. If those weapons had ever been delivered, a large number of them would, prospectively, have been delivered on to European soil. Their elimination was therefore an important advance for Europe.

The third crucial point of significance-this relates to something that I will say in a moment-is that the treaty demonstrated that it was possible to negotiate an arms control agreement with Russia, or the Soviet Union as it was then, that took arms levels down to zero on both sides. That was highly significant. That is why the INF treaty is much the most significant of the nuclear arms control agreements that have been entered into so far.

Originally, it was hoped that it might be possible to go further than the parameters of the INF treaty; it was hoped that it might be possible to go all the way down from a range of 5,500 km to zero-in other words, to take in the sub-strategic category. In reality, however, that proved to be a hurdle too far, and only intermediate-range weapons were included in the INF treaty.

However, three factors are now interacting to reopen the whole issue of sub-strategic nuclear weapons for possible arms control measures. The first is the fact that
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of the five European NATO members who have sub-strategic nuclear weapons on their soil, at least some-but definitely led by Germany-are becoming increasingly concerned about whether they want to continue to have that responsibility and position. That has now become a significant issue within NATO and in German politics. In addition, the United States nuclear posture review is now taking place. Finally, the NATO strategic concept review is also taking place. For the first time in a long period, a degree of movement is possible in the area in question, as those three factors come together.

We are talking about a huge quantity of nuclear weapons. On published figures from the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies in the US, the Russians have about 5,000 sub-strategic nuclear weapons and the American arsenal is 1,100, of which 200 are those deployed in the five European NATO member countries to which I have referred. I believe that there is a compelling case for trying to carry forward the elimination of that group of weapons, on the same basis as that on which we have already successfully negotiated under the INF treaty.

My reasons for believing that are, first, that unless one believes that there is still a possible threat of wave after wave and division after division of Russian armour pouring westwards across the plains of Europe, those weapons are, in military and defence terms, obsolete. They are cold war relics and one must question the sense of hanging on to such relics-weapons with no foreseeable use.

Secondly, from a European perspective, my case rests on the fact that, to an even greater extent than intermediate-range nuclear weapons, tactical or sub-strategic nuclear weapons-I appreciate that there is some distinction, but we are talking about the panoply of sub-strategic nuclear weapons, with a range of 500 km or less-would all, in Russian hands, be used, if ever they were used, in the European theatre. They represent a threat to Europe, but not to our NATO allies across the Atlantic, most particularly the United States.

There is a particular European interest in getting rid of that group of weapons. I was struck by the last sentence in an article written last month by the Swedish and Polish Foreign Ministers, Carl Bildt and Radek Sikorski, entitled "Next, the Tactical Nukes":

That was well said.

The third case for getting rid of sub-strategic nuclear weapons en bloc, if we can, is, as we mentioned in our report, the current dimension of risk of terrorist access to weapons, whether conventional or weapons of mass destruction. The elimination of the possibility that terrorists could get access to 6,000-plus sub-strategic nuclear weapons or components, or fissile material for those weapons, such as warheads, must be extremely desirable in counter-terrorist terms.

My last point on the matter is not, I find, generally known, although it is totally in the public arena: there is a UK dimension-a Trident dimension-because, as has been publicly disclosed in Ministry of Defence documents, Trident, whose main capability is strategic, also has a sub-strategic capability. So if, and only if, it
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were possible to conclude a nuclear sub-strategic weapons elimination agreement that covered not merely ground-launched and air-launched but sea-launched weapons on both sides, including the Russians, it would be possible for the UK to make a contribution through the sub-strategic element in Trident.

Those four points make a profoundly important case for the Government to examine the nuclear sub-strategic area and consider whether it might be possible to eliminate that category of weapons.

Mr. Davey: The right hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Because he has done so much work on the matter, I want to ask him about the issue of sub-strategic nuclear weapons in submarines. An option that is discussed for a much lower-intensity, less powerful replacement for Trident that might be more appropriate in a post-cold war era is such things as nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, from submarines. Those might give us a nuclear deterrent more suited to the threats that might face us. I take it that his proposal would not cover that type of nuclear missile, which might be more appropriate to our needs in this century.

Sir John Stanley: No, I was not referring to that. Most of the cruise missile capability, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is well above the 500 km range, and I am talking about something below that. Also, I certainly would not want our Trident strategic capability to go, unless that was in circumstances in which strategic nuclear capabilities around the world were eliminated as well.

If anyone should be sceptical about whether an agreement could be negotiated that eliminated all sub-strategic nuclear weapons, I would point them to the INF treaty. We have already negotiated such an agreement with the Russians in relation to intermediate-range weapons. If it can be done once it can be done again. I hope that the Government pick up that crucial area and see whether we can make progress towards the elimination of that entire class of nuclear weapons.

3.28 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): A day when the papers contain so many well deserved tributes to Michael Foot is surely a good day to be discussing nuclear weapons, and if I may say so, Mr. Williams, it is fine to have a Member who represents a Welsh constituency in the Chair, given the many great years of service that Michael Foot gave his constituents in Wales. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, and will be brief, as I know that many hon. Members want to speak in the debate.

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