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Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister referred to the delicacy of the situation. Can the noble Baroness tell the House anything about the objections by other states in Europe to the construction of facilities, in particular at Menwith Hill, which are alleged to be part of the American anti-ballistic missile system? Has she noted President Chirac's criticisms of the American attempt to develop such a system? Does the Minister think that it would be highly divisive in Europe if the UK were to go ahead in assisting the US to construct that system?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I repeat that no such request has as yet been made of Her Majesty's Government. If and when a request is made, Her Majesty's Government will have to give it proper attention.

As your Lordships will know, Menwith Hill is a site for the European ground relay system for the new US space-based infra-red system. That new system will provide early warning of any ballistic missile launches, replacing the ageing defence support programme. The space-based infra-red system is needed irrespective of any national missile defence system and is being pursued as a separate project. As the noble Lord mentions, it would be capable of providing early warning of ballistic missile launches to a national

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missile defence system should the US decide to deploy such a system. I repeat: no such request has been made. That matter is not before us at the moment.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister accept that many people will be pleased that she takes the view that, because we are not party to the treaty, we have no position in it? Will the noble Baroness confirm that while the United States can deploy a ballistic missile defence system even under the present ABM system, it wants an amendment to the treaty in order to construct a better one? Would not that be desirable? Finally, will the Minister confirm that if the Americans do not gain an amendment to the treaty, they are likely to withdraw from it, having given the requisite six months' notice? Would not that be worse than amending the treaty?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's anxiety, but all of these issues are speculative. At the moment, the Americans and the Russians understand the importance of the treaty and are working within a framework which would enable it to be maintained. What is at issue is amendment, nothing more.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, given Russian warnings that there will be dire consequences if the US continues the development of a national anti-missile defence, what action are the Government taking together with NATO and our EU partners to prevent irreparable damage to the global system of nuclear arms control?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government's position on nuclear arms control is clear. We are working hard with all our partners to reduce the threat which it poses and we continue to urge both America and Russia to work collaboratively in relation to the current difficulty.

Lord Carver: My Lords, will the Government take the opportunity to represent what the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, described as the "dire consequences" in their input to the NATO review of arms control, which was decided on at the Washington Summit last year, and is being carried out by the special political committee and presented to defence Ministers in December this year?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : My Lords, I have already said that the concerns and the delicacy of the issue are well understood by ourselves and all our partners. We continue to urge all parties to continue to respond responsibly in relation to the difficult

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challenges which face them. I reiterate that as yet the Americans have not taken the decision to have an NMD. We must have a certain degree of proportion in dealing with this matter.

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

2.51 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention on 27th March.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the United Kingdom, as one of the depositary governments of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, is considering with our two other co-depositaries, the United States and Russia, how best to mark this important anniversary. We are also taking into account the views of the other states which are party to the convention currently involved in the negotiations on a protocol to strengthen the BTWC. Completion of a legally binding protocol is a key arms control objective for the United Kingdom as it will fill the last remaining major gap in arms control provisions covering weapons of mass destruction.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on penetrating to the point of my Question. The most welcome form of celebration would be the conclusion of an effective verification protocol. Will she convey to the Government my congratulations on their patience and persistence in working for that purpose?

Is it not the case that, unless a draft is in place by the middle of this year, the prospect of securing endorsement at the forthcoming review conference might slip away? Does my noble friend agree that in the eyes of future generations the next two or three years may be seen as the make or break point in the whole disarmament conference, if indeed there are any future generations?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Lord that the next two years will be very important. A possible 11 weeks of negotiations remain this year and the successful conclusion of an effective and legally binding protocol would undoubtedly be the most appropriate way to commemorate the anniversary year.

The UK is playing a leading role in the negotiations, where we are responsible for compliance measures--the core of the future protocol. We hope to see substantive progress towards completion by the end of 2000. Consistent with the importance we attach to the negotiations, the UK has offered to host the signing ceremony of the future protocol in London.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, would the Minister not agree that there is no reason to celebrate at all when

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any A-level student in this field today can develop and use something far more lethal than the present weapons; for example, by injecting an egg with a nasty substance, then throwing it at a public figure at a meeting, instead of an innocent eclair? That could have a devastating result. What thought have HMG given to this terrible threat of havoc that could be caused by wicked pressure groups or terrorists in this field?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, there is a cause to celebrate if the protocol can be brought into being. The international community has been seized of this issue for more than 100 years and we have struggled together to bring it to a successful conclusion. As we inch closer to that end, I respectfully suggest to Members of your Lordships' House that that is a great cause for celebration. We know that the development of these weapons is extremely complex and it is the Government's view that the bringing together of international opinion will do much to make this a safer world for future generations.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we on these Benches fully support the Minister. In the context of the control of biological and toxic weapons, can she say where we are in relation to the move to re-establish the inspectorates in Iraq?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : My Lords, I should like to write to the noble Baroness on that specific question. As she will know, we are making progress, but as I am not precisely seized of the position I shall write to her.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, returning to the vital question of the satisfactory completion of the protocol, can my noble friend say whether, generally speaking, she is optimistic or otherwise?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : My Lords, we are optimistic. Her Majesty's Government have worked hard, as have previous governments. In the past five years, Britain has lead the way in relation to the protocol. We are very close to a mature protocol with which our partners will feel happy. Challenges remain and they are well-known, but we are optimistic that they may be able to be overcome by the end of 2000.

Lord Carver: My Lords, will the Minister give an example in order to justify the claim in paragraph 129 of the defence White Paper that the UK is playing a major role in negotiations to establish effective verification measures to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal : My Lords, during our presidency we took up the issue with great vigour. We have continued to lead on it and to make sure that every opportunity is taken with our international partners to direct their attention to a fruitful outcome for the protocol. We continue to remain in the lead and hope that it will be signed in London.

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The Salisbury Convention

2.58 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any proposals to review the Salisbury Convention in advance of any response to the report of the Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, no. As I said in response to a similar Question from the noble Lord on 15th December, the Government see no need to change the conventions under which this House operates during the lifetime of the transitional House. The Salisbury/Addison Convention gives effect to the important principle of the difference between this House and the other place, which is elected on a universal franchise.

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