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The treaty rests on three pillars, each of which needs to be strengthened. First, there should be firm controls against proliferation and a bar on more countries becoming nuclear weapons states. Secondly, civil nuclear technology should be shared with countries that need it for their domestic energy programmes. Thirdly, as representatives of a number of non-nuclear states have told me, nuclear weapons states should deliver on their commitment under article 6 to work towards multilateral disarmament.

The first step towards the last objective has to be the achievement of a strategic arms reduction treaty 2, or START 2, between Russia and the United States of America. I confess to some disappointment that the timetable on that has slipped. I will be interested to hear what the Minister can say about the Government's assessment of the prospects for those negotiations. I hope that the Obama Administration can persuade the United States Senate to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty in the not-too-distant future. I hope that the British Government say clearly to our friends in Washington that the United Kingdom favours their ratification of the CTBT, because there is sometimes misunderstanding on Capitol hill about what America's allies want.

The spread of civil nuclear technology is essential if we are to continue to persuade non-weapons states to maintain that status. There is a fear among some that the review of the treaty might lead to caution in the developed world in sharing civil nuclear technology with the emerging economies and developing countries that want to develop civil nuclear programmes. The quid pro quo is that, obviously, we need a regime of checks and controls to ensure that such technology can be shared, while reducing to a minimum the risk that technology and nuclear material could be used to provide a weapons capability to those countries that do not now possess one.

There are three elements to such a deal. First, we need stronger powers for the International Atomic Energy Agency, such as making the additional protocol mandatory. Secondly, we need to have effective sanctions against countries that sign up to the non-proliferation treaty but then flout the rules to which they have agreed to subscribe. For example, there might be provision for a quick reference direct to the United Nations Security Council once the IAEA has reported a serious breach of its controls.

Thirdly, we need to find ways in which to extend international control and supervision over the nuclear fuel cycle, particularly over enrichment and the distribution of enriched materials. As hon. Members will know, many different proposals have come from different politicians in this country about how that might be achieved. That has to be a key element of any successful review of the NPT.

I hope the Minister will say a few words about the diplomacy that the Government are using in the approach to May, because the more I consider the issue, the more it seems essential that we work not just with the other nuclear weapons states, but with emerging powers around the world that take a key interest in the matter. When I saw a South African delegation earlier today, they impressed on me that because South Africa has voluntarily given up its nuclear weapons capability, they have a particular interest in the subject.

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Japan sees itself as the victim of nuclear weapons, because of the two bombs in 1945, and it, similarly, wants to see the NPT review succeed. Sometimes it will be easier for an Asian, African or Latin American power to talk to other emerging and developing countries around the world than it will be for us or the United States alone to persuade such nations to take the course that we hope they will follow.

I hope that the Minister will say something about the Government's objectives on persuading the nuclear weapons states not currently within the ambit of the non-proliferation treaty-India, Pakistan and Israel-to accept some kind of non-proliferation regime. In terms of building international confidence and persuading other countries not to go down the nuclear weapons route, that seems important.

I have two final questions to ask the Minister. The first is about the future of nuclear doctrines within NATO, a point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling mentioned. He was right to say that five countries, led by Germany, have indicated that they would like NATO to become much less reliant on nuclear weapons as a central part of its military strategy. France, of course, takes a very different view on that issue. I would be grateful to hear how the British Government are approaching that debate within NATO.

Finally, I hope that the Minister will say a few words about Iran. When I met the new director general of the IAEA last week, he impressed me with the rigour of his analysis and his clear view that the evidence suggested that Iran was indeed moving towards the development of a weapons capability. The latest IAEA report is critical of Tehran's continuing refusal to co-operate with the international inspectors.

What approach are the Government now taking? Do Ministers believe that it will be possible to accelerate the long drawn out talks on a further package of targeted sanctions? Are we asking countries that have a relationship with Iran, such as Turkey, India and Brazil, to intervene diplomatically and make clear to Tehran the gravity with which its drive towards nuclear weapons capability is seen around the world?

4.50 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I begin by paying tribute to the Foreign Affairs Committee for the quality of its report. Members have been good enough to recognise that the Government took the report very seriously and ensured that our response was of a substantive and serious nature. There is much common ground between the Government and the Committee on the analysis of the current situation and on considerations on the future.

I share in the comments made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) about how my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) has chaired the Committee during this Session of Parliament. The Committee has further strengthened its reputation as a credible and serious scrutineer of the Government and a body that makes serious contributions to broader foreign policy debates. That is all to the good, particularly considering the votes in the House a few minutes ago, as the selection of Chairmen might take place on a very different basis in future.

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My hon. Friend has earned tremendous support beyond that of Government or party managers in relation to when choices need to be made in future, although it is not for the Government to decide who ought to chair Select Committees, or for the Whips-this is a unique and historic moment.

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and others who remarked on how poignant it is to have such a debate the day after the passing of Michael Foot, who was such a great and powerful advocate for nuclear disarmament and peace around the world. It is also appropriate because tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the NPT coming into force. We could not have had the debate at a more poignant moment.

As hon. Members have said, this year will be incredibly significant for such matters: there will be a nuclear security summit in Washington in April, the NPT review conference in May and the first preparatory committee for the arms trade treaty in the summer. This is the year when the world can come together and demonstrate its seriousness on creating a nuclear-free world. We must not raise expectations too greatly and must be realistic as well as ambitious, but 2010 could certainly be seen historically as the moment when the international community decided to go firmly down the disarmament route.

Despite the positives, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, some states continue to play outside the rules of the international community. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) raised the question of Iran and I want to respond directly to that point. The international community has made it clear that we want diplomatic and political engagement with Iran to resolve the nuclear file question. The President of America has made that clear, as many world leaders and international institutions have done consistently. As we meet here today, that door remains open. As we meet here today, that door remains open.

There is a desire to resolve the matter in a diplomatic and political way. However, Iran's developing nuclear weapons has to be non-negotiable in terms of the stability of the international community and the middle east, but, paradoxically, also because of the arms race that would be triggered as a consequence of its developing nuclear weapons. Other middle eastern countries would feel that they had no alternative.

Therefore, having made diplomatic and political overtures to Tehran, and having had a negative response and a complete lack of co-operation with the UN body charged with policing such matters, we have no choice but to say to Iran that we are serious. If Iran still refuses to come to the table, the next step in demonstrating our seriousness would be to introduce tough economic sanctions that particularly focused on the people in the Iranian regime who make decisions.

It is important that any sanctions that are adopted keep the door open to political and diplomatic progress and to a resolution, but also engender as much unity in the international community as possible. That is why the preparatory work that we are doing to try to ensure that we have maximum unity-so that Iran cannot say that there are serious splits in the mainstream international community-is crucial in moving towards the sanctions stage.

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Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Minister for what he has just said. He knows that I agree with him on the question of human rights in Iran, but can he categorise in which respects, in the Government's view, Iran is in breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and, to save my trying to intervene on him again, will he also give us some indication-he has given indications in previous debates-of what discussion is taking place with Israel concerning its nuclear weapons capacity? What hopes are there for its involvement in some form of disarmament discussions in the future to create what we all want, which is a nuclear-free middle east?

Mr. Ivan Lewis: On the first question, the International Atomic Energy Agency has made it clear that the Iranians are in breach of the rules in several ways and the treaty that they signed up to. I can write to my hon. Friend with those details. There are questions about their willingness to allow facilities to be inspected properly. For a long time, the Iranians denied that the Qom nuclear facility was being used in pursuit of the development of nuclear weapons, but then, as a result of significant international pressure, were forced to admit that they had been misleading the international community for some time, which further eroded confidence and trust in the good will of the regime.

On the representations that are made, the British position is clear. In every UN resolution on Iran's nuclear weapons programme that we have supported, we have ensured that we are equally calling for a nuclear-free middle east. In our bilateral engagement with the state of Israel, we constantly ask it to indicate at least a willingness to consider being part of the NPT.

I shall answer my hon. Friend directly: the reality is that Israel's willingness to engage is linked to a paradigm that involves a satisfactory resolution of the two-state issue, so that we have the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. In response, as he will be aware, the Arab League has offered normalisation for the first time in its relationship with the state of Israel. That is the paradigm that would enable us to believe that there were real prospects of Israel agreeing to join the process.

That aspect of the middle east peace process is not often spoken about in this House. There seems to be a tendency to want constantly to focus on the negatives. We are approaching a period-in a matter of weeks, rather than months-where we are optimistic that proximity talks can begin between the Israelis and the Palestinians under the auspices of George Mitchell, possibly dealing with borders first, then other final-status issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees and normalisation, that would be part of any settlement.

We strongly advocate and champion a nuclear-free middle east, but we still do not think that we should allow ourselves to be diverted from saying to Iran that every time we seek to engage with it on its responsibilities under NPT, all it says in response is, "What about Israel?" That does not deal with the fact that it is a signatory to the NPT and agreed to play by the rules of the international community, and, at every juncture, it has refused to play by those rules thus far.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North is right to make his point, but I hope that he will also consider condemning the human rights record of Iran, which, as Amnesty International has said, is the worst it
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has been in 20 years. If hon. and right hon. Members such as my hon. Friend say in the House to Iran that it is not acceptable for it to develop nuclear weapons, that will be a powerful contribution to the debate, because that regime cannot condemn my hon. Friend in any way for colluding with some of the policies that he finds it difficult to associate with.

Jeremy Corbyn: I have no problem whatever answering that question, because I have never supported Iran developing nuclear weapons. I do not support anyone developing nuclear weapons; I have a fundamental moral objection to them. I have made it clear to Iranians whom I have met that, whatever the issues are, I cannot under any circumstances support the development of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Lewis: I thank my hon. Friend for reiterating his position, which is well known, but he mentioned Iran's human rights record earlier. It is important that we send clear messages about its nuclear weapons programme and try to do that in a unified way, whatever other differences we may legitimately have.

Moving on from Iran, we continue to be concerned about North Korea. In that context, it is important that the sanctions that are already in place, which were agreed in New York, are rigorously enforced, while we continue to use the influence that we have over North Korea to ask it to re-engage with the international community through the six-party talks framework. It is crucial that this year, alongside our ambitions for NPT, we are seen to be dealing robustly and credibly with the real threat posed by Iran and North Korea.

On the review conference and our aspirations for it, we strongly believe that the best way forward overall is to strengthen the implementation of the NPT. We are working closely with our P5 partners to develop a constructive, forward-leaning approach at the review conference in May to provide the moral and political leadership that the Prime Minister has called for on non-proliferation and on disarmament. I believe that all Members of Parliament share those aspirations.

The conference presents a key opportunity to reaffirm our collective commitment to the treaty and its core principles, and to agree concrete, realistic, balanced action to strengthen the NPT's implementation across its three pillars, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury said: specifically, a strengthened non-proliferation regime to improve safeguards, verification and compliance; a clear and credible forward plan on nuclear disarmament and the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, without compromising safety, security or non-proliferation; and achieving consensus on ensuring nuclear security without reopening the treaty.

This is an ambitious agenda. We do not underestimate the considerable challenges that we face. We share a common interest and a common responsibility. We must not allow any differences to undermine the consensus that has underpinned the success of the NPT for the past 40 years.

I want to make an important specific point that was also raised by several hon. Members. The conference will take place at a difficult time in our political cycle. We must seek to achieve as high a level of representation
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as we can, taking into account the fact that it will start when the election campaign may be still under way-I am being very careful. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said, the conference will continue considerably beyond what may be the date of an election. We should seek to achieve collective responsibility so as to understand the fact that high-level representation, if feasible at a political level, is incredibly important in promoting Britain's national interest.

In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury, it is important that we commit to communicating with other political parties if the conference takes place at a politically sensitive time. We are clear about our lobbying strategy and how people can have an input, and we are open about how we intend to approach the conference. The dialogue will be very important.

Mr. Lidington: Let me say very simply that the Opposition share the Minister's belief that it is important that the United Kingdom should be represented at the conference at as high a level as practicable. I welcome his comments about consultation with other political parties.

Mr. Lewis: I turn to some of the contributions from hon. Members; I want to do them justice. I realise that I have probably had more time than my Front-Bench colleagues, but I hope that they understand that I have a lot of ground to cover.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South commented on the United States-India nuclear deal. It is undoubtedly controversial, and there is no consensus in the international community's response. We have seriously considered the pros and cons, and have concluded that the international non-proliferation regime will be strengthened by moving India closer to the mainstream.

India subsequently concluded an additional protocol with the IAEA. There was concern that, although that was part of the deal, India would not honour it, but it has done so. On balance, we believe that bringing India closer to the mainstream is in the overall interests of our shared objectives; there is no evidence that it has had a negative effect. The 2009 NPT preparatory committee, for example, is the first for 15 years to agree an agenda for the review conference. On balance, we still believe that it was right to support that agreement.

It is clear from the points made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling that he is one the best informed Members in the House on these important issues. He is aware that the United Kingdom does not possess any so-called tactical or sub-strategic nuclear weapons. Only nuclear weapons can provide a deterrent against a nuclear threat, so they are on a different scale from any other form of deterrence. Their use could only be deemed "game changing" or strategic.

In relation to the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty and Russia's proposal to multilateralise, in principle we would have no difficulties with that proposal. Of course, we would have to consider any further details emanating from Russia, but it needs to be clear that for that to be successful, considerable buy-in would be necessary from the international community.

The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members referred to NATO. It is right at this juncture to have a serious debate on NATO's nuclear weapons based in Europe, and that tallies with our ultimate aspirations,
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but we must be honest and say that we do not expect any unilateral decisions to be taken. Any decision must be taken following consultation with our NATO allies. Not all member states agree with Germany that getting rid of NATO's nuclear forces would be a good thing at this time. That, of course, is particularly the case in countries that feel under threat. Although we agree that NATO should be having this debate now, it is important that we handle things sensitively.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of biological and chemical weapons, and I shall briefly address that point. Biological and toxin weapons convention verification is a top priority for us, but there is no clear movement at this stage from the United States Administration. We accept that they are focused on the START talks and the nuclear posture review, but we continue to press them on the convention.

We have not yet had any indication from the new Administration about whether they intend to rescind the presidential veto over challenge inspections, and that is a little more depressing. However, in our bilateral discussions we continue to urge them to do so.

Sir John Stanley: On a point of fact, I believe that I am correct and that the Minister may wish to review what he has said. There is a sub-strategic nuclear role for Trident. The Government's policy, given in the 1998 strategic defence review, is that

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