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Joint Centrifuge Project, Almelo

Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 18 December 1979

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5.12 am

Remembering Alan Nunn May, Bruno Pontecorvo, the Rosenbergs and even Klaus Fuchs, with his overall grasp of the concept of the physics of the atom bomb, it is arguable whether any of them, or, indeed, all of them together, jeopardised world peace to a greater extent than the activities, in the second half of the 1970s, of Dr. Abel Qader Khan.

Certainly the effect of anything that Anthony Blunt may have done pales into trivial insignificance compared with the probable results of Dr. Khan's handiwork.

We now have the real threat of regional nuclear confrontation in Asia or the Arab world, laying a powder trail to a possible world holocaust.

So-called vertical proliferation is one thing. More nuclear weapons in the same hands do not necessarily increase the likelihood of nuclear war.

Horizontal proliferation—the acquisition of nuclear warheads by nations that previously had none at all—is quite a different matter.

That is why, even at 10 minutes past 5 o'clock in the morning, I do not apologise to an Under-Secretary, who has been very good-tempered and had to wait a long time for this Consolidated Fund debate, for keeping him out of his well-deserved bed and rest.

The subject that I raise is the security arrangements at the Joint Centrifuge Project at Almelo, in the light of the Khan espionage affair—Class IV, Vote 25.

At this hour in the morning I feel somewhat in the position of the Member of Parliament who dreamt—proverbially, at any rate—that he was speaking in the House of Commons, and woke up to find that he actually was. Be that as it may, the real point of the debate is the prospect of a Pakistani bomb and, related to that, a bomb in the hands of Colonel Gadaffi, who helps to finance Pakistan, or an ayatollah given a bomb for the sake of Islamic solidarity. This is a spine-chilling prospect—a dream of nightmare proportions.

The stark facts are hardly in dispute. But if my version is inaccurate the Minister will doubtless say so, since on this occasion I have submitted the guts of my speech to the Department of Energy on the ground that it would be unreasonable to expect any Minister to reply on so complex a subject to questions that were fired at him for the first time in the early hours of the morning.

The gut facts of the case as I see it are, first, that Abel Qader Khan came to Europe as a bona fide research worker and a student of metallurgy.

Secondly, at some point in the mid-1970s he was persuaded to devote himself to gaining access to theoretical but, more important, industrial information that would allow his native Pakistan to build and operate a nuclear weapon capacity of its own.

Thirdly, as a result of mind-boggling inefficiency or naivety—wholly uncharacteristic of the Dutch as a nation, in most things among the most competent of people on this planet—or connivance by people in certain key positions—I must make it clear that I have no evidence of connivance, but clearly that is a question that must be asked—Dr. Khan was able to acquire, first, theoretical information on centrifuge and enrichment concepts: secondly, information about metallurgical techniques crucial to nuclear weapons capacity; and, thirdly, and possibly most important, commercial knowledge of where a country such as Pakistan, with a tiny industrial base, could acquire "parts" for making atomic weapons which could not themselves conceivably be made in Pakistan.

Fourthly—here I go on with the guts of the case—for four long years key people in the Netherlands, in positions of great responsibility, maybe or maybe not inside the Dutch Government, apparently did not see fit to reveal to their West German and British colleagues that they knew that a security breach involving Dr. Khan had taken place.

Fifthly, according to the remarkable Observer investigators, Colin Smith and Shyam Bhatia, Dr. Khan is now living in the leafy suburbs of Islamabad, guarded by tough men ready to take on inquisitive journalists from the Financial Times or relatives of the French Ambassador who may innocently or otherwise be displaying uncalled-for curiosity into the Pakistan nuclear effort.

If the Minister wishes to add to or subtract from my deployment of the facts, doubtless he will do so in his reply. Indeed, frankly I feel that he ought to do so, as the Department and the Government have had two months' notice of my intense interest in this topic.

For the sake of those hon. Members who are not here but who displayed an interest in this topic, and for the sake of clarity, I must go over some of the questions that have been put, otherwise if one were to read the debate it would be incoherent and incomplete.

On 29 October I
"asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the review by Urenco, promised in June, of its detailed security arrangements; just what action the Governments of Great Britain, Holland and West Germany, as partners in the centrifuge project are taking to strengthen the tripartite arrangements; and if he will make a statement.'
The Secretary of State replied:
"As requested by the Joint Committee of the three Governments at their meeting in June, Urenco have reviewed their security procedures and have made a number of recommendations. In addition the implementation of existing Troika security procedures in the United Kingdom has been reviewed and an assurance given to the Joint Committee that they are being fully observed.
The Joint Committee considered the Urenco report at its meeting on 19 September. The Joint Committee concluded that the existing tripartite security rules and procedures were in principle adequate, but agreed on a number of detailed points on which improvements needed to be considered. It has been arranged for these to be studied urgently by security experts of the three Governments."
I am not fool enough to suppose that the House of Commons is the place to deploy details of those particular security arrangements. All I ask is that the promise made on 29 October is fulfilled.
"The Joint Committee also noted that effective security depended on the thorough and continued application of the present tripartite rules and procedures. It agreed to reinforce the arrangements for monitoring the application of these rules, and for the submission to the Joint Committee of regular reports by the appropriate security authorities of the three countries of the results of such monitoring."
The answer continued: I should like to have a clear undertaking that, unlike what occurred when Dr. Khan pursued his activities, the Government are party to that monitoring. The Secretary of State continued:
"A report from the Netherlands authorities on their investigation of the Khan incident was not available to the Joint Committee at its last meeting. The Joint Committee is due to meet again on Friday, 16 November and will again review Urenco security in the light of any further information then available."—[Official Report, 29 October 1979; Vol. 972, c. 382–3.]
Understandably, on reading that reply I wondered why on earth the report from the Netherlands authorities on their investigation was not available to the joint committee or to the Department. It creates something of a smell about the affair. I should have thought that at least a clean breast would have been made of the affair by the Netherlands authorities. Throughout the argument—as I said at Question Time today—the strand runs: why, for four long years, did not the Netherlands authorities tell their British and West German partners?

The next parliamentary step was on Wednesday 28 November. I asked the Prime Minister what discussions she had had on the security risks involved in the Khan incident at the nuclear centrifuge establishment at Urenco, Almelo, Holland, and the right hon. Lady replied:
"I have had no discussions with the Dutch on this matter, but our concern about the Khan incident has been made very clear to our partners".—[Official Report, 28 November 1979; Vol. 947 c. 647.]
At that time I thought it was a matter worthy of Prime Ministerial attention and I felt that the right hon. Lady should have contacted the Dutch Prime Minister.

On 29 November I asked the Prime Minister
"whether she will order a review of British involvement in joint European projects in so far as matters of nuclear security are concerned, in the light of the Khan incident at Urenco."
The Home Secretary—replying because the Prime Minister was at the Dublin conference—said:
"The Government attach importance to continued participation in the collaboration on centrifuge enrichment. Our concern about the Khan incident in the Netherlands has been made very clear to our partners, and action has already been taken to reinforce the arrangements for monitoring the implementation of existing tripartite security rules and procedures. Security is being kept under close review by the joint committee of the three Governments in the light of the report by the Netherlands Government of their investigation of the Khan incident.
No other joint European projects in the civil nuclear field currently involve the transfer of classified information but all are kept under continuous review for security and other implications."
I asked the natural question:
"Since the issue is nuclear proliferation in Asia, are the Government saying that they are satisfied with the Dutch proposals put forward at the joint committee on 16 November?"
The Home Secretary replied:
"I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's close interest in this matter. It is extremely important. He had the courtesy to make clear what he wished to ask in putting down his question. It is perhaps difficult always to be satisfied, but we shall do everything possible through diplomatic channels to impress upon our partners the vital importance of these security arrangements."
We all have great affection for the Home Secretary, but, if I may say so, that was a vintage Home Secretary reply on a subject on which he had little intention of giving a substantive answer. It is charming, but it does not get to the root of the matter. I still ask what happened about the proposals that were supposed to come forward on 16 November.

I ought to add that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) then asked a highly revelant question:
"What steps are being taken to make sure that nationals of countries that are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaties, such as Israel and South Africa, do not have access to the techniques covered by Urenco?"
The Home Secretary replied:
"These are matters relating to arrangements on security reached between the Governments concerned. I shall make sure that they are brought to the attention of those concerned."—[Official Report, 29 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 1479–80.]
This is not the first time that there has been a question of stolen technology. Although it is not the subject of this debate, as my hon. Friend's question raised the matter of Israel I should point out that the Department of Energy knows the whole saga of the Plumbat affair, of the ship "Scheersberg" and, indeed, of the establishment of a nuclear capacity at Dimona, so this is not an entirely new situation in relation to espionage. My hon. Friend put a good question that was not fully answered.

On 28 November I asked the Prime Minister
"what discussions she has had with the Government of Holland on the security risks involved in the Khan incident at the nuclear centrifuge establishment at Urenco, Almelo, Holland."
The right hon. Lady replied:
"I have had no discussions with the Dutch on this matter, but our concern about the Khan incident has been made very clear to our partners."—[Official Report, 28 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 647.]
I come back to the point that, on a matter of such global importance, surely the Prime Minister should have at least talked to the Dutch Prime Minister to get some explanation. It is a matter that should have been handled at Heads-of Government level.

On 6 December I had the opportunity to ask the right hon. Lady:
"Will the Prime Minister undertake to ask the Dutch Prime Minister about a leak that was infinitely more far reaching than any leak of Cabinet papers? I refer to the leak of crucial nuclear secrets from the centrifuge project at Almelo. Will the right hon. Lady ask the Dutch Prime Minister how that situation occurred, since it is arguably more damaging to peace in the world than anything done by the Rosenbergs or any other atom spies?"
The right hon. Lady replied:
"The hon. Genteman knows that we have already made protests about this matter, which involved a person who had been working at that plant of Urenco on enriched uranium and the centrifuge process and then went to work in Pakistan, where we are trying to see that there is not proliferation of production of nuclear materials or any nuclear weapons. The matter is not on the agenda, but I shall reinforce the protest that we have already made."—[Official Report, 6 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 611.]
I must say that I find it extraordinary that even at this stage the matter was not on the agenda. Part of my complaint is that, although they wrung their hands in public, I doubt whether senior Ministers have tumbled, even now, to the enormity of what is involved. I do not think that they realise the implications of an Islamic bomb, with all the consequences that flow from that.

On 11 December I raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker and asked whether, in view of the urgency, the Prime Minister would make a statement on Urenco. I had put down a question for oral answer, and it was No. 5 on the Order Paper. Normally question No. 5 is reached, but it was not on this occasion, and the Prime Minister's written reply was:
"I raised this matter with the Netherlands Prime Minister, Mr. van Agt, at my meeting with him on 6 December 1979. He agreed that this was a matter of most serious concern and assured me that everything possible was being done to prevent a repetition."—[Official Report, 11 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 531.]
It would be a little trivial and rude to say that that was a bland reply. After all, it was a written answer, and possibly I could not expect anything more. But I am not being rude if I say that it was an incomplete reply.

On 17 December I asked the Prime Minister if she would
"approach Chancellor Schmidt with a view to setting up a joint German-British inquiry into the reasons why the British and German Governments were not informed by the Dutch Government of security breaches at the joint centrifuge project by Dr. A. Q. Khan, and the effects of his activities on Western security."
The right hon. Lady replied:
"No. I have already expressed my concern to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands about the Khan incident. All three Governments of the centrifuge partnership attach importance to ensuring that incidents of this kind are not repeated and appropriate action has been put in hand."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 8.]
I can imagine no matter more urgent on which the Prime Minister should talk to Chancellor Schmidt than security and the consequential events in Islam.

Today I had question No. Q.1 to the Prime Minister, and it was answered by the Home Secretary. He said:
"We raised the Khan incident with our partners earlier this year. At the joint committee in June it was agreed that security procedures should be reviewed and, as the hon. Member knows, appropriate follow-up action has since been taken."
Well, actually, I do not know what follow-up action has been taken. If the Home Secretary had promised that it had been taken but refused to tell me exactly what had been done, I would have understood. But, after all that has been said and written, he may wish to go further. He added in his reply that
"The issue is being kept under close review by the Joint Committee."—[Official Report, 18 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 278.]
That can mean anything. Is it simply a question of crying over spilt milk, with a pious promise to avoid repetition? Is it a case of saying" Well, it is too bad that the Pakistanis have atomic weapons. They will probably give the information to the Libyans, who have given them a lot of money, and, who knows, in the name of Islamic solidarity they could hand over nuclear weapons to an array of ayatollahs, free Palestinians and heaven knows who in Islam?"

I think that the concept of an Islamic bomb is more spine-chilling than the whole nuclear armament in the hands of the men in the Kremlin and in Washington. Great Governments, such as those of the Soviet Union or the United States, can be counted upon to act with deliberation. One can sleep fairly easily in one's bed at night without fearing a nuclear holocaust. But the bad dream come true of a Gadaffi bomb or an ayatollah bomb is altogether different.

It may be said that the knowledge of theoretical physics is such in the world that any country should have the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons and, therefore, why should anyone worry about breaches of security? Proliferation, it may be argued, is bound to take place anyway. Were that true, what is the point of having nuclear security anywhere? Were that the case, we might as well forget the whole paraphernalia of secrecy and security.

But while it is true that the theoretical physics of a nuclear explosion are now widely understood by anyone reading the nuclear journals, the short cut by which a relatively poor country lacking an industrial base can actually make a bomb and nuclear weapons is not widely known. This is where Dr. Khan comes in. His value to Pakistan lies in the nuts and bolts of the metallurgy and engineering required to produce nuclear weapons.

I come now to the central purpose of raising the issue in the House. It may, for all I know, be too late. The proverbial birds may have flown. On the other hand, even if at this late stage certain key parts can be denied to Pakistan and other countries with a small industrial base, it may not be too late to do some- thing about the spine-chilling proliferation of nuclear weapons.

My first and possibly most important question is to ask what exactly is the so-called London group of 15 countries. What is its relationship with Governments in an effort to prevent countries without an industrial base from getting hardware crucial to the manufacture of nuclear weapons? If there is anything that I want from the Government this evening, it is the promise that they will do all that they can to give muscle to the London group. There have been inconsistent policies in the supply of nuclear materials by those who are in a position to be suppliers of these materials.

My other questions reflect concern about whether there could be any repetition at Urenco, Almelo. It is somewhat a matter of deja vu with reference to what the Israelis did in relation to the "Scheersberg", the Plumbat affair and the development at Dimona.

What explanation did Mr. van Agt give to the British Prime Minister of why the Dutch authorities had not informed their British and West German partners in the Urenco consortium of their knowledge of the breach of security operations? Certain people in Holland, we understand, had known precisely what Dr. Khan was up to for four long years before the West Germans and the British were told.

I intersperse at this stage a question that I was asked to put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), the former Secretary of State for Energy, who is deeply interested in this matter. My right hon. Friend wanted to know when British Ministers were first told about this affair. He said frankly that his own recollections were vague. I pass on that question because I, too, am interested in the answer.

Had the Dutch made a clean breast of it as soon as they knew what Dr. Khan had done, is it not possible that, for example, the British authorities would have ticked on more readily why Pakistan should want specialised high frequency inverters? Had Dr. Khan's activities been fully known to the British and West German authorities, is it not at least more likely that Pakistan would have been denied the industrial requisities for a bomb? When, and in what circumstances, have export controls been introduced for inverters?

Export controls might have been introduced very much earlier and more effectively had the British Government known what the Dutch authorities apparently knew and what the Dutch Government may or may not have known, namely, that Dr. Khan had been operating in a highly sensitive area on behalf of Pakistan.

Again—and I have given notice of these questions to the Department and to the Minister—what and whose authority is needed to get inside the Almelo plant? Is it true that, simply because he was supposed to know something about hydrogen corrosion, Dr. Khan was invited in for 10 days?

Does Urenco feel obliged to help anyone who writes "I am a research student under the distinguished professor X. I should like information on Y"? It seems that what Dr. Khan did in the first place, fantastic though it may sound, was to write letters along the lines "I am a research student under the distinguished Professor Delaye of the Catholic university in Brussels. Can I have information?" Apparently he was easily given highly sensitive information.

If that is the way in which the Almelo project proceeds, the time has come, has it not, to review the whole matter? If that is its style of behaviour, either it is naivety or it results from something else.

Members of the House will understand if I say that there is a great contrast between Britain and Holland. From my experience in the European Parliament I came to know the extent to which Dutch politicians were obsessed by, or at least interested in, nuclear matters. Whereas the House of Commons can hardly get a major debate on Cruise missiles—at any rate, before Christmas—Governments in Holland can fall or stand according to their nuclear policies. The Dutch are intensely interested in the nuclear debate.

The supposition or guess is that certain people in Holland would have found it so politically embarrassing to reveal that the Dutch, above all others, had been responsible for creating the conditions for nuclear proliferation that they sat on the secret. That may or may not be the explanation, but it is a possibility.

I come back to the question: in that case, who is or is not entitled to information in Urenco? Remembering that Dr. Khan was not, as I understand it, at any time a direct employee of Urenco—he was an employee of the FDO—whether he was vetted by that organisation or by the Dutch security service is open to question. The Minister may wish to comment on that matter. I do not press it too greatly. I am concerned about our involvement henceforth in relation to the security aspect.

What investigations, if any, are being made into the alleged dummy company, Wear gate Ltd., of Swansea in Wales, which allegedly bought inverters from Emerson Electric Controls in Swindon and sent them to Pakistan? Has any attempt been made to trace the owners of Weargate Ltd.—Mr. and Mrs. Abdus Salaam? Are the Government discussing with other highly developed technological nations the sale of such items as high vacuum valves and glass rotors?

The Minister may say that keeping tabs on such items is unreal and impractical. If that is what the Government believe, they should say so. If it is really impossible for the London group of nations—given the nature of a complex industrial society—to operate, it should be admitted and made plain.

I make no apology for taking half an hour, even at this time of the morning, to go through these matters. Nuclear proliferation, especially nuclear proliferation in Asia, is far more dangerous in the opinion of many than all the discussion and talk about fear of nuclear radiation and the possible safety, or lack of safety—according to taste—of the PWRs. The subject that we are discussing at this time of the morning is far more important in terms of danger to the human race than the various doubts and worries that were raised during questions to the Secretary of State for Energy when he produced astatement on the PWR and related nuclear matters some 14 hours ago.

That is the context in which I put the matter, and I make no excuse for detaining the House and keeping the Minister up at this time of the morning. I thank him for his good nature and look forward to his reply.

5.47 am

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) certainly need not apologise in any way for keeping the House up at this late hour. He had raised an extremely serious matter. I assure him that the Government share the concern that he has expressed today. We consider that the consequences of what has happened are potentially very far-reaching.

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me a copy of his speech—or what he called the guts of his speech—in advance. I hope to deal in detail with some of the important questions that he raised. He will appreciate, however, that the matter is delicate. Although I wish to reply to the points that he raised, it would not be appropriate or possible for me to go into every detail that arises in the issue.

I wish to put on record that I do understand that the matter is delicate.

I am grateful for that assurance.

In addition, some of the detailed questions that the hon. Member raised have been the subject of a thorough investigation by the Netherlands Government. A report on this investigation has been produced by an interdepartmental working party of the Netherlands Government, and follow-up action is currently being considered in Holland by the Netherlands Government. A copy of the report has not yet been passed to the Netherlands Parliament. I cannot reveal the detailed findings of the report.

It may be helpful to the hon. Gentleman if I begin—and I am anxious to help him—by outlining a few of the facts of the case.

We understand that in 1972 Dr. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist, was recruited by a Netherlands subcontractor to Ultra Centrifuge Nederland. UCN is the Netherlands industrial partner in the centrifuge project. Dr. Khan worked for the subcontractor for about three years. During that time he was seconded to Almelo for a short period as a translator. He may well have been in a position to gain access to confidential information about the centrifuge process. He returned to Pakistan in 1975.

The hon. Member asked, quite rightly, "Why was the United Kingdom not informed?" It is a question that we have been asking the Netherlands authorities. To date, we have received no satisfactory explanation.

I should like to outline the steps that have been taken to investigate the Khan incident: to review security procedures within the uranium enrichment collaboration and, most important, to tighten up on their implementation.

The collaboration with the Germans and Dutch was set up in 1970 by the Treaty of Almelo. A joint committee of the three Governments is responsible under the treaty for providing effective supervision of the collaboration. The committee normally meets, at official level, about four times a year, or more frequently if necessary. The chairmanship rotates; next year the United Kingdom will be in the chair.

Annex II to the treaty deals with security procedures and classification. Principles and minimum standards on security were agreed between the three Governments, but the responsibility for their implementation lies with each individual country.

The rules are designed to ensure that access to sensitive information is tightly controlled, the three Governments having recognised from the outset that their nonproliferation objectives demanded such control. In particular, it has been absolutely clear since the beginning of the collaboration that nationals of fourth countries could be permitted access to confidential information only with the express agreement of the joint committee. No such clearance was sought in the case of Dr. Khan, nor was his departure to Pakistan in 1975 notified to the joint committee. Nor, as required by the Treaty of Almelo, was the apparent breach of security reported to the joint committee until long after it occurred.

Our concern about the affair—which is very considerable—has been made clear to the Netherlands Government, and it was underlined recently by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at her meeting with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Is not this the most flagrant and mind-boggling let-down? What do the Dutch think they are playing at? They have broken every agreement, have they not?

If the hon. Gentleman will let me proceed, I shall outline what representations have been made, what actions have been taken and what investigations are being conducted.

In April 1979 the United Kingdom asked for a full report to be made to the joint committee of the centrifuge collaboration on the allegations then appearing in the press about Dr. Khan's activities in Holland. Questions were also asked in the Netherlands Parliament. The Netherlands Government told the joint committee at its meeting on 16 June 1979 that they had set up an internal investigation into the circumstances of the Khan incident, and they then made an interim report on its findings.

The United Kingdom and German representatives at the meeting emphasised the gravity of the allegations that had been appearing in the press and stressed that investigation by the appropriate authorities in the Netherlands should be full and thorough so that appropriate follow-up action could be taken. All three Governments agreed that Urenco should be asked urgently to review the security arrangements to be followed by all three industrial partners so that necessary steps to prevent a repetition could be pursued.

After the meeting—and this answers the point that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) asked the hon. Member for West Lothian to raise—United Kingdom Ministers were informed of the interim findings of the inquiry by the Netherlands Government, and a review of the implementation of existing tripartite security rules and procedures in the United Kingdom was started. I can assure the hon. Member that the tripartite security rules and procedures are being fully observed in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member quoted the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to the effect that the Urenco report on the review of security was considered by the joint committee at its meeting in September. The committee concluded that the existing tripartite security rules and procedures were, in principle, adequate, but agreed on a number of detailed points on which improvements needed to be considered by security experts. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is happening.

The joint committee also noted that effective security depended on the thorough and continued application of the present tripartite rules and procedures. It agreed to reinforce the arrangements for monitoring the application of these rules and for submission to the joint committee of regular reports by the appropriate security authorities of the three countries of the results of such monitoring.

The implementation of security procedures is essentially a matter for national Governments, but enforcement of the arrangements for monitoring is, of course, of concern to all three Governments and is being kept under close review by the joint committee.

It was also agreed at the meeting of the joint committee that the matter should be considered again when the report of the Netherlands authorities on the Khan incident was available. The report by the Netherlands Government was received in confidence by the British Government in October. Its implications for future security, throughout the collaboration, including security at Almelo, were discussed, and agreement was reached on appropriate action at a further meeting of the joint committee in November.

We have made clear to the Netherlands Government, through diplomatic channels and meetings of the joint committee, that we attach considerable importance to ensuring that there are no repetitions. That concern was firmly underlined by the Prime Minister at her recent meeting with the Netherlands Prime Minister, Mr. van Agt. He assured the Prime Minister that everything possible was being done to achieve that.

The hon. Gentleman implied that United Kingdom Ministers were not seized of the seriousness of the affair until he pressed the Prime Minister earlier this month. I do not think that that is the case. The Department of Energy Ministers and the Prime Minister were alerted as soon as the full facts of the case emerged—that is, when the full report from the Netherlands authorities was received in London during October.

The tripartite Urenco security rules and procedures were drawn up with the objective of minimising the risks of proliferation. I cannot go into details, but we believe that, provided that the rules and procedures are applied thoroughly throughout the collaboration, sensitive nuclear information can, and will, be properly protected.

I turn to some of the particular matters raised by the hon. Gentleman. He referred to and asked about the London group of countries. This consists of 15 main nuclear supplier States, including the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union and Japan. It is more commonly known as the nuclear suppliers group. The member States have undertaken, when considering the export of nuclear material, equipment and technology, to act in accordance with certain principles. Before any supplier member State exports any of the items listed in what are known as "the guidelines", assurances are required from the recipient country's Government regarding peaceful non-explosive use, coverage by international safeguards, and adequate physical protection and retransfers.

The United Kingdom has played a leading role in the nuclear suppliers group, and through frequent bilateral exchanges is working for more effective export controls, internationally, on sensitive nuclear items, including the kind referred to by the hon. Gentleman. This is consistent with our goal of enabling countries to reap the full benefits of nuclear power while minimising the serious dangers of nuclear proliferation.

The United Kingdom exercises careful control over the export of all materials and components specially designed for nuclear facilities. These are subject to licences under the Export of Goods (Control) Order.

The controls that we and others operate play an important part in furthering our non-proliferation objectives. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have been taking all the necessary steps to ensure effective and comprehensive implementation of the order and will continue to do so.

I do not accuse the Minister of being complacent, but we had the example of Weargate Ltd., the dummy company. To what extent was Emerson Electrical Controls subject to that sort of order? Possibly the hon. Gentleman is coming to that.

It is not normal practice to discuss the activities of individual companies, and I cannot do so. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is nothing illegal in exporting from the United Kingdom general purpose items that do not require a licence and may be widely available throughout the world. Provided that a company is not exporting something that is not illegal, no action can be taken against it. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that specially designed items for use in nuclear facilities are subject to export controls. Applications for an export licence for such items are given the closest scrutiny, and I am satisfied that these controls are stringently applied. Furthermore, the scope of the controls is kept under constant review.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the introduction of export controls on inverters, which are known also as frequency changers. He should be aware—and I am sure that he is—that inverters have many uses. These are items which can be used in both nuclear and industrial applications; for example, in spinning equipment. Following a review of the possibility of United Kingdom manufactured frequency changers being supplied for use overseas in nuclear applications, it was decided to impose export control on those inverters capable of a multi-phase electrical output of between 600 and 2000Hz. An amendment to the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1978 was accordingly made on 19 October 1978, with effect from 9 November 1978.

It was further amended in February and March this year to cover components of frequency changers and equipment essential for the manufacture of centrifuge parts and components. Discussions have also been held with other leading supplier countries, some of which have since brought frequency changers within the ambit of their export control procedures. That illustrates the way in which leading supplier countries are co-operating urgently on these matters. As the hon. Gentleman has said, there are other equally important steps that have to be taken to discourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A decision to build nuclear weapons is, in the final analysis, a political decision. We need to promote a wider political commitment to non-proliferation.

The United Kingdom has been playing a full part in international discussions on measures to achieve that end, including the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation. The United Kingdom is a depository Power of the non-proliferation treaty, to which there are now 111 parties. We are working continuously to make the treaty as universal as possible in its application.

The Pakistan authorities have consistently stressed the peaceful nature of their nuclear programme. We have noted these assurances, but we have made clear our concern at the development in Pakistan of unsafe guarded nuclear facilities. It is a matter that we should view with seriousness in any non-nuclear weapons State.

We have made clear to all parties in the sub-continent our support in principle for arrangements which could be agreed between them to include the sub-continent in a nuclear weapons-free zone. The Government attach the highest importance to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. We should view very seriously indications that any non-nuclear weapons State was setting out to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and to share that with others.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the obvious care that he has taken over his reply, but may I express a certain incredulity—I am sure that he would put it more tactfully than I would—about the Pakistan assurances? After all, we have the case of the correspondent of the Financial Times and the relative of the French Ambassador being beaten up, and there are some of us who just do not think that Pakistan is not trying to get nuclear weapons.