[Relevant documents: Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2008-09, on Global Security: Non-proliferation, HC 222, and the Government response, Cm 7692.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Ivan Lewis.]
I am delighted to introduce the fourth report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which will, I guess, be the last report to be debated in this Parliament. The report, entitled “Global Security: Non-Proliferation”, was published on 14 June 2009, and the Government response was published in August 2009. Inevitably, a lot of things have happened since then. Even in the interim between our report’s publication and the Government’s response, the Cabinet Office published “The Road to 2010: Addressing the Nuclear Question in the 21st Century”, a position paper on the approach that the Government have taken in the run-up to the important non-proliferation treaty review conference, which is due to start in May.
Given the importance of that conference, it is essential that we have a detailed debate now in Parliament on what is happening. The previous review conference, in 2005, was a failure and there are real threats to the non-proliferation regime, including from North Korea and Iran and from the potential development of a nuclear arms race throughout the middle east from Arab neighbours of Iran, responding to that. There is also a change in the political relations between the United States and Russia and the tentative commencement of dialogue between India and Pakistan. Not everything is negative. There is no progress in the middle east in respect of Israel and the Palestinians and potential areas of conflict, but there are some positive political developments as we approach the review conference.
I should like to highlight the essence of the concerns and conclusions of our report. I am afraid that I shall quote an extensive passage from the report— paragraph 114, which is also quoted in paragraph 14 of the Government response. I want to place it on the record, as it is important. It states:
“We conclude that the five recognised nuclear weapons states have widely varying records as regards nuclear disarmament and arms control over the last decade. We welcome the fact that of the five the record of the UK has been the best. However, we also conclude that, owing to the way in which the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty…enshrines a distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons States Parties, the five recognised nuclear powers are often perceived as a group by the non-nuclear weapons states, and that, as such, the group is seen collectively to have failed to live up to the nuclear disarmament commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences.”
The important point that we are making is that the vast majority of the nuclear arsenals in the world are held by the two nuclear superpowers: the United States and Russia. The UK, France and China, the other three nuclear weapons states that are signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, have much smaller arsenals.
Owing to the lack of progress under the Bush Administration on these issues, and their lack of interest in all things to do with negotiated multilateral or bilateral disarmament, we are in a situation today where the non-proliferation review conference can be put at risk unless there is a significant move on these matters, collectively, by the nuclear weapons states—that means, in essence, a move this year by the United States and Russia. I will say more about that in a moment. Paragraph 114 concludes:
“without decisive movement by the five recognised nuclear weapons states as a whole on nuclear disarmament measures, there is a risk that the 2010 Review Conference will fail, like its 2005 predecessor—during a critical period for dealing with North Korea and attempting to constrain Iran’s nuclear programme.”
We called for the Government to do more on these matters. I should like formally to take this opportunity to thank the Government for “The Road to 2010” document, which was published by the Cabinet Office. There was a certain procedural problem, in that our Committee was not given a copy quickly, although it was put into the public domain while the Prime Minister was answering questions at the Liaison Committee. I received the press release—but not the document—at that point, so it was rather difficult for us. That, however, is a process problem between the Cabinet Office, which sponsored the document, and the other Departments. We hope that in future the Cabinet Office will bear in mind that Select Committees have an interest and that our Committee had an explicitly stated interest in these matters. We should have had that document directly in advance, before it appeared on the websites and in the national daily newspapers.
Paragraph 115 of our report highlighted relatively well defined international agenda on nuclear disarmament steps in respect of which there is international consensus on a lot of matters, such as
“entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and measures to scale down, de-alert and make more transparent existing nuclear arsenals. We recommend that the Government should aim to come away from the 2010 NPT Review Conference with agreement on a concrete plan to take the multilateral nuclear disarmament process forward, with target dates for”
all those areas and commitments from both
“nuclear and non-nuclear weapons States Parties to ensure implementation.”
I should be grateful if the Minister updated us on the progress that has already been made, as well as on what progress he expects will be made in future.
There are problems. A number of countries are not party to the non-proliferation treaty. India regards it as an unequal treaty and therefore has not signed. Pakistan is also a nuclear weapons state, yet it has not signed. I understand that the Pakistanis are the main reason why we are not making progress on the fissile missile cut-off treaty; they have made objections in the United Nations negotiations process.
North Korea is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty but has carried out nuclear weapons tests, although whether they were successful or not is debatable. Nevertheless, the North Koreans claim that they have a nuclear weapon—and their neighbours believe that they do—and they are in open defiance of the treaty and have said that they have withdrawn from it. One of our report’s conclusions was that strong measures, including sanctions, should be taken against countries that withdraw from such a treaty.
Iran has not withdrawn from the non-proliferation treaty review, but it is in breach of its obligations under that treaty, particularly with regard to the additional protocol and successive UN Security Council resolutions. The American Administration have extended the hand of friendship, to use President Obama’s words, but that has been rebuffed. The Iranians seem to be taking on a position that will inevitably lead to strengthened sanctions from the international community.
Interestingly, the Russian Government, who until a few weeks ago had been cautious about having tightened sanctions on Iran, now seem to have moved their position to support a tighter regime. The problem now in the Security Council is China, and its relationship with Iran. Gas imports are probably a major determinant in that, but China’s attitude to bilateral issues with the United States over arms sales to Taiwan and so on may also be involved. I shall be interested in the Minister’s assessment of that.
Professor Ali Ansari, the renowned academic, wrote recently with reference to the Iranian regime:
“The meaning of it all, of course, is that foreign policy has always been subservient to domestic needs and that the deliberate raising of the nuclear spectre is intended to divert attention at home and abroad. At home the government believes that the spirit of confrontation can help rebuild a badly damaged legitimacy, while the heightened preoccupation with the nuclear crisis can be used to convince Iranians that the west has no real interest in their human rights and democratic aspirations. Like all good demagogues, Ahmadinejad knows how to peddle fear and exploit paranoia, whether it resides in the east or the west.”
That is a good summary of how the Iranian regime is trying to use the heightened tensions about the nuclear issue to reduce support for the opposition following the rigged elections last year.
I do not want to take up too much time, and I am conscious that we may have a series of votes that will disrupt our proceedings, but it is important that I should highlight some of the most important aspects in our report. It went much wider than just nuclear weapons. It deals with a range of issues and includes references to chemical and biological weapons, cluster munitions, the arms trade treaty and the prospects for conventional disarmament. I do not have time to go into all the conclusions or the Government’s response, so I want to focus on the non-proliferation treaty review conference.
One reason for the conference’s failure in 2005 was the perennial difficulties in the middle east, and there has been no progress on the negotiation of a comprehensive settlement of the middle east dispute. As a result, it is highly likely that Israel’s nuclear weapons programme will feature in the debates on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Israel’s internal politics cannot be easily influenced from outside. Members of our Committee recently visited Israel. There is a clear concentration on security concerns in Israel, as in Iran, and such matters have a relationship.
At the same time, there was the mysterious episode of the Israeli bombing of the facility in Syria, which the Syrians had not made public. No one is quite sure whether it was a nuclear weapons-related facility, but I understand that it was more likely that it was. It was suggested that the North Koreans had assisted the Syrians to develop that facility, which the Israelis, perhaps with intelligence gained from elsewhere, promptly bombed.
In our report, we drew attention to the interesting question of why the International Atomic Energy Agency was not made aware of the existence of that facility by the Syrians or, pertinently, by the United States and other countries that clearly had the intelligence to give some idea of what was going on. We commented on that in our report. In paragraph 94, we drew attention to the long-standing aspiration for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the middle east, and pointed out that the Government should try to do more under the European Union’s Mediterranean process to work for such an objective. In their helpful response, the Government used an interesting phrase. They called on all states in the region to take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at
“making progress towards the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free from weapons of mass destruction.”
Clearly, the phrase “effectively verifiable” is the essence of the problem.
Given that most countries in the region do not recognise the existence of Israel, that there is no peace agreement with Syria and that there is a cold peace with Jordan and Egypt, there is clearly a long way to go before achieving effectively verifiable zones free from anything. I hope that the Minister will touch on the significance and importance of that. I argue strongly that we should not allow the non-proliferation treaty to be put in hock to regional disputes—whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir or any other. Those are wider issues, and we must try to make progress so that the review conference comes up with a positive agenda, a timetable and—I was about to say “road map”, but in the context of the middle east I will not—a plan for the future.
I apologise for missing the first 10 minutes of my hon. Friend’s speech. His Committee delivered a commendably detailed report. Does he believe that a useful outcome of the non-proliferation treaty review might be the establishment of a nuclear weapons convention, which obviously could include all countries, irrespective of whether they were signatories to the NPT? Clearly, NPT membership is restricted to the haves and the have-nots, but those who have just obtained nuclear weapons cannot be included in the system.
I am not sure whether another negotiating forum would help us; I would need to be convinced of that. We said in our report that there are loads of disarmament forums around the world—too many. In their response, the Government did not agree, but setting up another talking shop is not what we need. We need concrete action to ensure that existing conventions and treaties are complied with.
Most importantly, under article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty, the declared nuclear weapons states agree to act in good faith to secure real measures of nuclear disarmament with an aspiration for total global nuclear disarmament. That should be upheld, and in that context I was encouraged by President Obama’s speech in Prague last year. I was also encouraged by the report in the International Herald Tribune on 2 March, two days ago, about Obama’s commitment to move towards significant reductions in the US nuclear arsenal. There were earlier reports in February of tentative moves towards a possible agreement between the Americans and the Russians on strategic arms reduction.
According to my information, there are still large arsenals of such weapons, and both the Americans and the Russians could make very deep cuts in their strategic arsenals without moving away from a nuclear deterrent policy. Russia could retire some old and dangerous systems that are probably unusable. We therefore have the prospect of deep reductions, which would go a considerable way towards strengthening the argument against those who believe that this is an unequal treaty and that the nuclear weapons states have failed to comply with their aspirations.
However, there are complications to the US-Russia relationship. First, the Russians have adopted a new posture that defines NATO as the main enemy. Members of the Committee were in Brussels last Monday and Tuesday, and we heard about that in some detail during discussions. Russia says that its main enemy is not terrorism, Islamist fundamentalism or climate change—although one would not expect that from the Russians—but NATO. That sits oddly in the context of the new opening up of dialogue and potential agreement with the Americans.
Secondly, there is the question of missile defence. At what point does missile defence become an obstacle to further nuclear weapons reduction? President Obama and Vice-President Biden have changed the American position from that of the Bush Administration and taken a new approach. Instead of having anti-ballistic missiles in Poland to shoot down nuclear missiles, and radar in the Czech Republic, that completely different approach will now focus on southern Europe—Bulgaria and Romania—and on putting missiles in the Arab Gulf states to defend against a potential Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
At one level that is worrying because it almost implicitly states that the route of disarmament and sanctions will not necessarily stop the Iranians getting a nuclear weapon. It also means, however, that it cannot be argued that such measures are in any way directed against the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal. Russia’s nuclear arsenal is not based anywhere near the Caspian sea, and it is likely that the Russians will take a different approach to such matters.
If the ballistic missile defence model grows during the next phase—rounds two, three and four—it could potentially become global. In those circumstances, the American offer to the Russians of a co-operative relationship with NATO on such matters is vital. The last thing we want is an anti-missile arms race alongside a nuclear arms race, or for measures that stop further nuclear arms reduction to come about through the ongoing negotiations.
I will conclude with two or three other points. The Committee made a number of recommendations, many of which the Government agreed to. However, some recommendations were not agreed to, and I want to touch on a few of those points and press the Minister on them. It is important that we get the opportunity to reply to the Government response to the Committee’s report.
I have already mentioned the first point, which is the sheer number of organisations and initiatives and the need to simplify, rather than complicate, the disarmament process and non-proliferation architecture. Secondly, the Committee was critical of the India-US civil nuclear co-operation deal because we thought that it could undermine the non-proliferation regime by implicitly accepting India as a nuclear weapons state outside the treaty. The Government did not agree with that, but I am not convinced by their response.
Thirdly, we concluded that there should be changes and reductions to the operational readiness of nuclear weapons, in order to enhance international security. We also raised questions about the Trident programme, the possible delay in moving towards the initial gate decision and the contribution that holding back on the renewal of Trident might make to the prospects of a move towards negotiation on multilateral disarmament involving Britain’s existing nuclear weapons. I would be interested to hear the ministerial thinking on that as we approach the non-proliferation review conference, and in the light of budgetary pressures within the Ministry of Defence. What time scale is envisaged for the renewal of Trident and what will be the implications of that on the number of warheads that we have in the UK?
“The Road to 2010” document touches on that issue, and the written response to our recommendations referred to the Prime Minister’s statement about a potential move towards having three submarines rather than four, or to having submarines with fewer missiles. The current Trident submarine has 16 missiles, and that number could be reduced to 12. Although I accept that we have made moves over the past decade, I would be grateful if the Minister told us whether the Government have any thoughts about what additional moves Britain could make to further progress towards international nuclear disarmament.
As we approach the May conference, would it be helpful if the Government went on the record to say that they would be prepared to delay the currently envisaged timetable for the renewal of Trident as a sign that they want to engage and that, if there were positive movements at New York, they would not go ahead with that renewal?
I can quote the exact words stated by the Committee last year:
“The Government should specify—in the light of international disarmament developments by that time—the state of a multilateral nuclear disarmament process that would trigger UK participation. We further recommend that the Government should specify whether there are circumstances under which the UK would be prepared to suspend the Trident renewal programme.”
That is from paragraph 138 of the report.
I welcome the points that have been made in the report. Does my hon. Friend have any idea about how much money has thus far been committed either to the replacement of the submarines or to the development of a missile system? Would it be useful if the Government were more open about that issue, particularly in advance of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference in May?
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.
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 quantity 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.
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 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 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 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”:
“Such weapons are dangerous remnants of a dangerous past—and they should not be allowed to endanger our common future.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I am old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis. I remember the real fear of the students, and particularly the lecturers, at the university of Edinburgh institute of animal genetics, where I was studying. I have lived most of my life during the cold war, and there is no doubt in my mind that the threat of nuclear war was very serious for these islands, for Europe and indeed for the whole world. It was John F. Kennedy who said that if we did nothing, there would be a considerable number of nuclear states. He reckoned that it would be about 25 in the 1970s. That has not happened, and I believe that it is largely because of the grand bargain, as the Government and the Select Committee have called it—namely the non-proliferation treaty between the nuclear weapons states and the non-nuclear weapons states.
We have, of course, the official nuclear weapon states and the unofficial nuclear weapon states, but I shall not elaborate on the implications of that, because of the time. I am glad that reference has already been made to the state visit by the President of the Republic of South Africa, as this is a good time to acknowledge that South Africa took a conscious decision to abandon its nuclear weapons.
The NPT is, as the Government have described it, a grand bargain. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) admirably made the point that the agreement of the US to sell nuclear fission material to India was a major undermining of the treaty. India, of course, is a non-NPT country. These are challenging times. As I said, North Korea claims to have manufactured nuclear weapons. Only on Monday, Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stated that his organisation could not confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is being used for peaceful activities because Iran had not provided the agency with the necessary co-operation. In addition, the threat of terrorist efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and materials is a continual concern nowadays.
The Government’s document “The Road to 2010” makes a valuable contribution. I pay tribute to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, whose report I referred to in our last debate on nuclear weapons proliferation—an Adjournment debate on 9 July last year that I initiated. Since then, of course, the Government have published not only “The Road to 2010” but their response to the Select Committee’s report. The latter is an excellent document, containing a good range of material. In their response, the Government reiterate their support for a nuclear-free middle east. A few moments ago, I referred to unofficial nuclear weapons states, but it would help if the Minister were to set out the Government’s view of progress towards a nuclear-free middle east. Reference has already been made to Iran.
It is important that we see movement from the United States toward ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty. The policy of President Obama, reiterated last month by his Vice-President, is that the US should ratify the treaty, but that may not be straightforward, because ratification would require 67 votes in the Senate.
There are many important issues to be covered in May: disarmament, safeguards, consequences for treaty violation and consequences for withdrawal from the treaty are among them. There is also a need for a fissile material cut-off treaty. That is being considered by the conference on disarmament, the arena where the matter is discussed, but I understand it has hit the doldrums.
If I may take issue with just one word of the Committee’s report it would be the use of the word “critical” in relation to the forthcoming review conference. The word is used by both the Government and the Select Committee. My fear is that it implies that if the review conference does not succeed, that is the end of the treaty, but as has been pointed out, the review conference five years ago was a total farce. We do not know what will happen in May, but to use the word “critical” is a little dangerous, because when it comes to the spread of nuclear weapons to various states, there is no other game in town. We desperately hope that progress will be made because that is so important for the future of this country and of the world, but we have to bear in mind that we need to move forward. We certainly do not want to encourage the idea that, if things do not work out in May and we do not make the progress that we all want, the NPT will be redundant.
I am pleased that we are having this debate today. I shall be brief, because we hope to vote in the main Chamber on the reform of Parliament at 4 o'clock. I think that reforming Parliament would be a really good idea, if it meant that we could debate subjects such as this at greater length and in the main Chamber. I acknowledge that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has made enormous efforts to produce a substantial document. It is a credit to the Committee and the Select Committee system. I pay tribute to the Committee for that, yet we are debating the report in Westminster Hall with only half a dozen or so Members present. It therefore will not gain the public attention that it deserves. We will have to return to these matters in the next Parliament. The Select Committee system is crucial to democracy, as it holds the Government to account. I thank the Committee for its work. The report, as they say, is a rattling good read, if a rather long one.
Following the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), it would be wrong of me to make any comments about nuclear disarmament without mentioning the enormously important work done by the late Michael Foot. I am very sad at his departure. I have fond memories of him. When I first came to the House, he was the leader of my party. He was pleased that I had become an MP, because he was no longer the worst-dressed Member—someone else had taken over. I always found Michael’s contributions amazingly passionate. I attended numerous rallies—CND and others—at which he spoke, and he never lost his passion, commitment, faith and hope. We should remember Michael for all that he did.
I will be extraordinarily brief. As national vice-chair of CND and chair of the CND parliamentary group, I want to make a few brief remarks in respect of nuclear disarmament. As every other Member has mentioned, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty comes up for its quinquennial review in May in New York. Unfortunately, the start of the review coincides with the probable date of a general election and the certain date of the local elections in this country, so no Minister will attend the start of the conference. However, as it runs for four weeks, they may be able to attend the latter part of it. It is a very great opportunity to make enormous progress, and such opportunities do not come around very often.
There have been previous reviews. The 2000 review, in which the late Robin Cook had a big influence on British participation, made a lot of progress, but the last one made no progress at all. One hopes that this year’s one will. I attended the preparatory committee in New York last year, and was impressed by the level of engagement by the US, Russia and China. Such engagement has not been so obvious before. Clearly, a great deal of progress could be made. Will the Minister say what position the UK is hoping to take at the conference itself and what we intend to get out of it?
My next point is more difficult. The non-proliferation treaty has been successful and has discouraged a lot of proliferation. It has within it an inspection regime, which is very important, and a requirement under article 6 for the confirmed holders of nuclear weapons—Britain, France, China, the USA and Russia—to undertake steps for credible and meaningful disarmament. The late Fred Mulley, who was a British Minister in 1968, made great play of the fact that he and the Government were committed to article 6. I hope that we will reiterate that commitment and, at the very least, suspend a decision on the replacement of Trident. I would prefer that Government went much further and said that they simply will not replace Trident, as their contribution to nuclear non-proliferation.
Absolutely. It is a starting point and something I shall be discussing in the general election when I put my case to the people of my constituency, as all other Members will do. I think that there is a moral, economic, diplomatic and political case for not replacing Trident.
My last point is that the NPT does not include India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. India and Pakistan need to be engaged as never before in peace talks, negotiations and disarmament, because of the danger of the spread of the Afghanistan war into Pakistan and the clear threat to peace in that region. North Korea is part of the six-party talks, and one hopes that those talks will bring it back into the NPT fold.
Finally, I come to a middle east nuclear-free zone. I know that the Government are formally committed to a nuclear-free zone in the middle east. The Mediterranean declaration included some statements about weapons of mass destruction in that region to which Israel signed up. Israel is not a party to the NPT or any other disarmament convention. I do not think that Iran should have nuclear weapons. I do not like its human rights record. There should be as much engagement as possible with the country to prevent the forces that want to develop nuclear power and nuclear weapons from gaining greater control. I hope that we can ensure some sense in that by putting all possible pressure on Israel to join in some kind of disarmament process. It does not matter what badge is applied—we can call it a nuclear weapons convention—but a process that involves every country that has nuclear weapons has to be the way forward.
There is no moral case for nuclear weapons. They are incredibly dangerous. People are still dying in Japan from the only time that nuclear weapons were used in anger, more than 60 years ago. Do we want that legacy for our grandchildren as well?
I join in the tributes to the late Michael Foot. He was a fantastic campaigner for peace and nuclear disarmament and it is right that hon. Members should mention him at the start of their remarks.
I welcome the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, which is one of the best pieces of work that I have seen from that Committee. That is not to say that other works have not been very good, but this report is extremely timely and authoritative. I also welcome the way in which the Government have responded to it even if I, like the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), do not agree with everything that the Government have said. I praise the Government, from the Prime Minister down, for publishing “The Road to 2010” and for being very proactive in the disarmament debate; they deserve some credit for that.
There is a large degree of cross-party agreement on this issue. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has made one or two speeches, which I have taken the trouble to read—[Interruption.]
Order. There is a Division in the House. I understand that it is the first of several, although how many is unclear at present. I therefore propose that we suspend for 15 minutes. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to return immediately after this Division, at which time it might be clearer how many there will be and we can decide how to proceed.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I understand that there is to be a number of Divisions, so I propose that we suspend the sitting until 10 minutes after the last vote in the House. I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to come back at that point.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
It is good to be back, Mr. Williams.
Before the Divisions, I was saying that there is a large degree of cross-party consensus as we approach the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference in May. There are one or two differences between my party and both the Tories and Labour on Trident, and I will mention them at the end of my contribution, but first I shall focus on the issues on which the parties agree.
I want to press the Minister about how the Government intend to handle the fact that the conference will start just at the culmination of the British general election campaign. Is it intended to keep the Opposition parties informed—what does he envisage? Given that it is a critical conference, we want to ensure that the British voice is heard loud and clear, so it would be helpful if he gave us some assurance on that point. My noble Friend Baroness Williams of Crosby has been very much involved in these matters—indeed, she has even advised the Prime Minister on them—and I am sure that she could be one avenue of communication on our side, if that would be helpful.
As we approach the eighth review conference in New York, there is a far more positive mood, as has been mentioned by other speakers in the debate. Part of that is the timing in relation to what is going on in the rest of the world and international affairs. The election of Obama has made a very big difference, and talks have taken place between the US and Russia. Before all those events, however, some of the arguments made on the Republican side of American thought—such as Kissinger, Shultz, Perry and Nunn in their famous letter to The Wall Street Journal in January 2007—were looking ahead to the possibility of a world without nuclear weapons. That debate has really transformed the way that a lot of people think about the issue, and we should give credit to those individuals for their analysis of the intellectual underpinnings of the concept of a nuclear deterrent. They have shown that the ideas that characterised the nuclear debate in the cold war era have less application in the 21st century, when there are failed states, rogue states and potential threats from terrorists using nuclear materials. That analysis has helped to underpin the shift in thinking on nuclear weapons.
Of course, one can put the negative side of the argument. In Iran and North Korea, we see serious threats to the non-proliferation regime. I wanted to press the Minister on how the British Government will approach the problem posed by so-called break-out states, whereby states such as Iran can be within the nuclear non-proliferation treaty regime, even though they may be in breach of some of the rules and there may be proposals for sanctions against them, and so on. There is a danger that those states are getting right to the wire and that they then will break out of the non-proliferation regime when they have got very close to becoming a nuclear state, having kept within the strict rules up to that very moment. The Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), touched on that question: are the Government willing to allow legal changes to be made to the treaty to create sanctions for countries that do so? Sanctions are automatic and would not require a UN Security Council debate at what might be a fraught, tense moment. They are a signal in advance about what will happen and thus act as a deterrent.
I agree with much that other speakers said, particularly about the importance of the US Congress ratifying the comprehensive test ban treaty. That is probably the biggest step that the Americans could take. In relation to the British Government, however, I want to put on record some Liberal Democrat concerns that hark back to the debate in the House a year or two ago on the renewal of Trident.
We still believe that that decision was taken far too soon. Much of the evidence that we have heard from experts in the industry and the military indicates that it did not need to be taken at the time. The Government could have considered anything from a strategy of life extension to changing the continuous at-sea patrols to lengthen the life of submarines. A number of strategies could have been adopted to avoid the need for that decision. The reason why we were so concerned about the decision is that the conference was upon us. Britain’s having made that decision seems to go against the spirit of the times and the leadership that we must show before the conference.
We would like the Government to discuss the matter in future, depending on what happens at the conference. The Liberal Democrats are seriously considering and being advised on the idea that our own deterrent, if we should need one, should not be a cold war relic such as Trident, but a replacement that is not like for like. It needs a lot of study in legal and military terms, but our initial work suggests that it is possible.
Apart from that important strategic disagreement about our nuclear weapons and approach to the conference, I believe that the Government deserve credit, particularly for the money that they have put into verification technologies. We know that they have worked with Norway and brought the non-governmental organisation VERTIC into that work, which is incredibly significant. If they continue to pursue that work, they will have our support.
I thank the Select Committee and congratulate it on a first-class report. The report and the Government response—which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) said, is rather more comprehensive than some departmental responses to Select Committee reports—provide what amounts to a formidable work of reference for anyone interested in the challenges of the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and how British policy in particular has evolved.
Both the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Committee, and my right hon. Friend addressed their remarks with the seriousness and depth of information that the subject deserves. I was particularly interested by what my right hon. Friend said about the need for attention to be paid to questions of both intermediate and tactical nuclear weapons. I agree that we must not forget those issues in our initial concentration on the talks between the United States and Russia about strategic weapons.
I have heard Senator Nunn say publicly that many senior military officers in the United States army have grave doubts about the efficacy of tactical nuclear weapons. His argument is that the generals believe that such weapons are never likely to be used and therefore soak up a huge amount of resources, both in terms of expenditure and the men needed to guard the weapons on the battlefield, that could better be employed elsewhere in the United States defence budget.
I see challenges arising in the attitude of Russia. I understand that Russia is seriously concerned about the inferiority of its conventional forces. It faces a demographic crisis, with the numbers of young men of military age falling in future decades. There must be a risk that Russian Governments will rely on tactical nuclear weapons to counter a balance of forces that tilts against their interests. My right hon. Friend is correct that we must press forward with the agenda that he described, despite the difficulties.
As several speakers have said, the review of the non-proliferation treaty, which is due to commence in May, is of great importance. My party has long taken the view that it is vital to our national interest that the NPT review should succeed. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) was kind enough to draw attention to the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that suggested a number of specific measures that the United Kingdom should advocate in the conference.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
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
“The credibility of deterrence also depends on retaining an option for a limited strike that would not automatically lead to a full scale nuclear exchange. Unlike Polaris and Chevaline, Trident must also be capable of performing this ‘sub-strategic’ role.”
The right hon. Gentleman raises a point that is difficult to argue with. It all depends on one’s definition of “sub-strategic role”, but I do not think that we could disagree on how he defined it in his contribution. The difficulty is in the definition. However, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the potential role of Trident. That takes me on to Trident itself.
It will be useful quickly to update the House on the initial gate process; I think that all Members will be interested in that. The House will be aware that we had originally planned to consider the concept phase of the future deterrent submarine programme in the autumn of 2009. However, further time was necessary to ensure that decisions on submarine propulsion and design options were based on robust information. New technical options are being considered, and a few more months are needed to evaluate them fully before taking a decision.
In the 2006 White Paper, we announced our intention to introduce a new class of submarine from the mid-2020s. That timetable is still on track, despite the delays. However, it does not mean that we have taken an irreversible decision that commits us irrevocably to possess nuclear weapons for the next 40 to 50 years. It is important to make that point.
I turn to a point made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). He hints that he does not agree with our position, but I am still unclear about his party’s position. On some occasions, the Lib Dems say, “We are conducting a fundamental review and will inform the public when we have reached a conclusion about our policy.” On other days, the party’s Front-Bench spokespersons say, “We have decided not to replace like with like.” The position is unclear. Are the Lib Dems conducting a fundamental review, with all options remaining open, or have they made a definitive decision that they will not replace like with like?
The problem is that we are not clear about the Liberal Democrat position on the replacement of Trident because the party has not said that it will not replace Trident. It has tried to hint to a particular section of the electorate that it is less comfortable with the concept of Trident, but it has not said that it will not replace Trident. Its policy will have to become clearer as we get nearer to an election.
Let me deal with the important point made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton about the future approach to sanctions in respect of those countries that are not complying with their obligations under the NPT. We agree that that is a very important priority for the review process. The Prime Minister made it clear in his speech at Lancaster house last March that we need to strengthen the regime to deter non-compliance by ensuring certainty of detection and, where non-compliance has occurred, by ensuring certainty of serious consequences. Sanctions are one option, as is suspending co-operation with the IAEA, for example. We are looking to the review conference for a mandate to address those concerns. The hon. Gentleman is right: that will be a significant part of what Britain will be seeking to achieve as one of the key outcomes of the review.
The year 2010 will be crucial. There is significant consensus in the British Parliament, I believe, about what is the morally and politically appropriate position for this country to adopt in the context of the negotiations. It is important that we should be seen to provide strong leadership. It is equally important that, at a time when we have hope that the journey towards a nuclear weapons-free world can gather momentum, we should not allow Iran and North Korea to be developing a nuclear weapons capacity or to be expanding their ambitions further.
I hope that we can secure and maintain the maximum unity of purpose and consensus and that during the period of the conference, despite the political difficulties that we may have in this country, we seek an all-party consensus and maximum effectiveness in the British input.
Will the Government publish in advance of the conference any particular strategic document, and will they use the conference to seek parallel meetings with non-NPT states, all of which are normally there at NPT review conferences? I shall be at the latter part of the conference, and I am happy to be a consensus figure in favour of disarmament, if that helps the Minister.
That may be an offer that I can refuse; I am not sure. I am not clear whether we have a commitment to publish our negotiating position formally, but I am happy to ensure that there is engagement with right hon. and hon. Members with an interest in these issues. In the lead-up to the conference, we can ensure that as much information as is available gets to those right hon. and hon. Members, so that they are clear about the broad approach that we intend to take.
As for meetings with other states, which my hon. Friend asked about, I should say that we meet those states on a bilateral basis and one of the issues that we raise with them consistently is the NPT review process and what their attitude to that may be. With that, I conclude my contribution.
With the leave of the House, I thank the Minister for his detailed response and all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for his kind remarks about me. I would not have been able to play the role that I have in the Committee over the past five years without the co-operation and dedication of a number of colleagues, not least the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) and the staff of the Committee, who also need to be praised for their work. I also place on the record my appreciation of those officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with whom the Committee deals. They have been consistently helpful in response to the requests for information that we regularly make and in the correspondence and deadlines that we give them.
I have two other points. The first is the problem of the transition between this Parliament and the next. In previous international conferences, from time to time Members or former Members of both Houses have played a role in parliamentary delegations, assisting as part of a UK delegation to disarmament negotiations. It may not be impossible for some former Members of this House or the other place to assist during the transition period, and I hope that that can be borne in mind.
Finally, I place on the record my great sadness at the death of Michael Foot. I was in Brussels last Monday and Tuesday with the Foreign Affairs Committee at the UKRep offices, and on Monday evening I went to the Grand Place in Brussels. When I heard of Michael Foot’s death yesterday, I looked at a photograph on the wall of my office. It is a picture of Michael Foot and me in the Grand Place in 1982. We had been attending a meeting of the Socialist parties from NATO countries that were campaigning against cruise, Pershing and SS20 missiles. This is an apposite moment to draw attention to that, and to hope that the non-proliferation review conference goes some way further towards the goal that Michael Foot had and his aspiration for a world without nuclear weapons.
Question put and agreed to.