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Geneva Convention: 1977 Protocols

Volume 489: debated on Thursday 5 November 1987

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3.14 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government which governments have ratified the 1977 Geneva protocols additional to the 1949 convention; whether they have yet, as promised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in March 1986, resolved their doubts about the protocols, and, if so, why they have not announced their decision.

My Lords, as at 21st August 1987, 25 states had ratified one or both of the 1977 protocols additional to the Geneva convention of 1949, and a number of others had acceded to them. I have arranged for a complete list to be placed in the Library of the House. Consultations with our allies are now well advanced. We expect this process to be completed within the coming year, so enabling us to take a decision on the ratification of the protocols.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that this matter appears to have taken an unconscionably long time, especially having regard to the fact that the original protocols protected civilians generally and therefore the additional protocols to protect them against nuclear weapons hardly seem to have been necessary? What was the reason for the long delay and the great difficulty in coming to a conclusion on this matter?

My Lords, our policy is not to become party to binding legal instruments until we are quite sure that they are in accord with other commitments and obligations, and we must ensure that the new obligations which these protocols introduce can be fully met.

My Lords, I recognise that the Geneva protocols are a very important landmark and welcome the Minister's observations about the progress that is being made. However, does he agree that in practical terms the meeting between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev promises an even greater achievement? Will Her Majesty's Government give their full support to the signing of the new INF Treaty as a big step in the process of nuclear arms reduction?

My Lords, naturally we support wholeheartedly any attempts to reduce the INF and note the proposals referred to by the noble Lord. I think he will be aware, however, that they do go rather wide of the Question on the Order Paper.