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North Korea: Nuclear Test

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 30 November 2006

rose to call attention to the implications of North Korea’s decision to conduct its first nuclear test; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion, I should like to thank in advance all those Members of your Lordships’ House who are to participate in the debate, and I should like to express my appreciation for the opportunity to raise the matter today. This is the third occasion on which I have had the privilege of opening a debate in your Lordships’ House on the subject of North Korea. Today I should like to raise three interconnected strands: security questions, humanitarian issues and human rights. Each of these concerns plays into the other.

This Motion was tabled in the aftermath of the October weapons test at Gilju in Hamgyong Province. In becoming the ninth country to possess nuclear weapons, North Korea’s actions were described by China as “brazen”, by Japan as “unpardonable” and by the United States as “provocative”. But of course the test did not just come out of the blue. Its genesis lies in the unfinished business of the 1950 to 1953 war in Korea, which claimed between 2.5 million and 3.5 million lives, including those of 1,000 British servicemen. With the 1953 ceasefire, the country was severed along the 38th parallel and, technically, the principal combatants are still at war. The border bristles with mines, artillery and troops. Anyone who travels in North Korea sees a state whose massive arsenal and resources are overwhelmingly geared to the protection and the survival of the regime.

When, in 2003, North Korea pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, its intentions rapidly became clear. It also became clear that primarily China, through the control of electricity and oil, was in a position to temper the DPRK’s military ambitions. In September 2005, there was a brief glimmer of hope when, during the six-nation talks, North Korea agreed to give up nuclear activity, only to be followed by contradictory statements from Sean McCormack, the White House spokesman, and a retraction by the DPRK the following day. Then, of course, in July of this year, North Korea test-fired seven missiles, and in October it proceeded to test a nuclear device.

On 14 October, the Security Council responded by unanimously voting to impose weapons and financial sanctions. Resolution 1718 demanded that North Korea eliminate all its nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. The resolution also called for Pyongyang to return “without precondition” to the stalled six-nation talks. On 31 October, China announced that the talks would resume “soon”.

If the unfinished business of 1953 continues to have huge security implications, there are also implications for humanitarian and human rights concerns as well. These three questions are inextricably linked and need to be tackled together. Let us take, for example, the humanitarian situation. The escalation of the security issues is already having an adverse effect, in particular on the provision of food aid, which will lead to famine and mass starvation. This, in turn, will lead to more people trying to flee the country, which, in turn, will lead to their incarceration and unspeakable violations of human rights if they are caught.

At a meeting here on 16 November addressed by Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights, I asked him about the plight of the 400,000 people estimated to have been killed by the regime in the past three decades, about the 200,000 people said to be currently detained in the country’s gulags and about the likelihood of a new famine and mass starvation following 2 million deaths during the famine of the 1990s. His view was that there is a real danger of a new famine. That was endorsed on Monday of this week at a meeting held under the auspices of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which I chair.

Professor Hazel Smith worked for the World Food Programme in North Korea. She told us:

“The under twenties have never seen anything other than hunger and if food doesn’t go in there will be another famine, and soon”.

Last week, during the debate on the gracious Speech, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, disputed figures that I gave the House concerning food aid. I said that funds for the World Food Programme were down from £6 million to £1.9 million. These figures were not mine; they were the figures of the special rapporteur, Professor Muntarbhorn. He added:

“In reality it could be even half of this amount”.

He told us that only 10 per cent of needed funds have come in and that only 30 countries out of 200 had contributed food. China is believed to have cut food support by one-third and South Korea suspended shipments after Pyongyang’s missile tests in July.

North Korea has, of course, scandalously used at least 30 per cent of its GDP on armaments and in developing nuclear weapons—resources that should have been used to develop the country’s economy and agriculture—but we have to draw a distinction between a regime and its ideology on the one hand and the people of that benighted land on the other.

More than 37 per cent of six year-olds in North Korea are chronically malnourished. Stunted growth among the population has even led—this is an interesting illustration—to the height requirement for the North Korean army being reduced from 4 foot 11 to 4 foot 3.

Professor Smith says that the country’s stocks of food,

“will not last long into the New Year”.

We must not become complicit in the potential starvation of millions of people. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, replies to the debate he will be able to give the House details of the current humanitarian situation, particularly regarding food.

We must also consider the implications of the worsening situation for human rights on the Korean peninsular. Without UNHCR access, and in breach of the 1951 convention, China continues to return many of the 50,000 refugees who have fled there. I would like to know from the Government what representations we have made about this. The worsening security and economic situation will undoubtedly add to that exodus. What will be their fate? Two weeks ago the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a motion detailing North Korea’s use of torture, public executions and degrading treatments, as well as a morass of other allegations. The penal code particularly, we should note, criminalises defection.

In 2003, my noble friend Lady Cox, who will speak more extensively on this point later in our proceedings, and I travelled to North Korea. My interest had been initially aroused when an escapee came to London and graphically described to me how his wife and young family had all died, either from starvation or as they tried to escape from North Korea into China. For years in the West, we genuinely claimed to know very little of the realities of life in North Korea, but thanks to the testimonies of escapees this is no longer a tenable argument.

In the aftermath of the Korean War, North Korea’s leaders implemented a policy of “juche”—or self-reliance—which has led to decades of isolation. It has led to the state linking itself to criminal activities, including the narcotics trade, to abductions, to the testing, according to BBC allegations, of chemical weapons on civilians and to alleged links with terrorism; and it has led to torture and execution.

On 30 October, the all-party group hosted the launch of a 142-page report commissioned by Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel peace prize laureate, and Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former Norwegian Prime Minister. Mr Bondevik spoke at the launch of the report, which is called Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea. I have placed a copy of that report in the Library of your Lordships’ House.

The report invites the United Nations Security Council to evaluate the egregious violations of human rights in North Korea; to consider using Chapter 6 powers rather than those in Chapter 7; and to adopt a non-punitive resolution urging the DPRK to allow open access for international humanitarian organisations to feed its people. It calls for the release of political prisoners, as well as insisting that the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea should be permitted to visit the country. If the new doctrine of “the responsibility to protect” means anything, the UN needs to respond positively to the Havel/Wiesel/Bondevik report, copies of which I have sent to the Prime Minister, the principal opposition spokesmen on foreign affairs and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman.

What would be a thoughtful and intelligent response to North Korea? One thing is clear: 50 years of isolation have not worked, and attempting to starve a patriotic and proud people into submission will not work either.

Following the talks that my noble friend and I had with senior figures in Pyongyang, including Kim Yong Nam, the president of the Presidium, and Choe Tae Boc, the Speaker of their Assembly, whom we invited to the United Kingdom in March 2004, we have argued for what I have called “Helsinki with an Asian face”, engaging respectfully, sincerely and forcefully on questions such as judicial reform. If the declared objective is simply regime change, then that will not work either. We need carrots as well as sticks. In some respects, I think that isolation rather suits the hardliners in the DPRK.

Although the United States is understandably wary of being detached from the six-nation talks, I can see no justification for continuing the illusion that the US never talks directly to Pyongyang. There have been plenty of periodic encounters at the margins of multilateral talks. For instance, Kim Jong-il met Madeleine Albright. Establishing an embassy and diplomatic relations, as the United Kingdom has done, would be a positive and constructive move and could hardly be portrayed as rewarding the regime.

And what about the United Kingdom? North Korea’s ambassador to London, Yong-ho Ri, has just been recalled to Pyongyang, where he is likely to have a key role in overseeing the six-nation talks. I met him before he left, and he believes, as I do, that the UK could be a useful bridge-builder between the United States and North Korea. He also believes that Britain should provide leadership in Brussels in seeking varying levels of constructive engagement, especially once the security concerns are resolved through development aid and assistance towards reunification of the two Koreas.

All that said, for North Korea it is the United States that matters. It is the major player involved, and it alone can guarantee the security that North Korea craves. That is precisely the successful approach used by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher during the worst years of the Cold War. Think of the normalisation of US-Libyan relations in 2004.

Recent changes in Washington create new opportunities. Yesterday Tom Lantos, who is about to become chairman of the congressional Committee on International Relations, said that he is willing to meet Kim Jong-il, and he says that Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill should be dispatched to Pyongyang to open a dialogue. There are also other new, lower-key policy options that we can pursue. We have nothing to fear from, for example, student scholarships and exchanges, medical assistance or the offer of technical assistance to promote the rule of law. That will be crucial to economic development as well as to changing attitudes towards human rights.

While more substantial engagement depends on North Korea’s compliance with Security Council resolutions, the UK should in principle support its wish for sustainable development rather than food aid. Tying such development aid to capacity building in the rule of law would be a virtuous conditionality. English language training is also vital if North Korea is to be drawn into the international community and into rules-based international systems. The engagement policy of the South Korean Government also deserves our wholehearted support.

We should explore all possible steps that can open space for civil society, however modest. The “hermit kingdom” needs to know about the outside world, as opposed to the distorted picture that its people have been fed all their lives. We must encourage any moves towards reform and openness, not to mention making a small improvement in people’s lives. That might include scholarships, encouraging cultural exchange and pushing for more access by non-governmental organisations. Those are necessarily modest steps, but they should be supported by a clear road map that shows North Korea that it has an alternative. We should spell out what will flow and be on offer if it agrees to verifiably dismantle its nuclear programme, open up to the outside world, reform its economy and start taking steps to improve human rights and allow for basic freedoms. It should be made clear to the DPRK that nobody seeks to punish the country for its own sake, but that it has an option of being helped towards a better future. Essentially, that is precisely what President Bush and Secretary of State Rice said in Hanoi recently.

In many respects, North Korea’s mad dash to develop a nuclear weapon is a sign of weakness and desperation, and we should see it thus. When my noble friend Lady Cox and I stood at Panmunjom on the North Korean side of the border, where the 1953 ceasefire was signed, it was hard not to think of Berlin and the Cold War that divided and devastated large swathes of Europe. North Korea is often called “the land that never changes”, but for the sake of its people and its neighbours we should devote our energies to disproving that proposition. I beg to move for papers.

My Lords, I am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for this debate. I suffer from the great weakness that I have spent most of my life in trade and the financing of trade, and I have never understood, nor will I ever understand, international politics. However, I have always felt that when a country is divided and both countries keep the same name, they probably intend to unite.

My only knowledge and understanding of Korea goes back to Bill Speakman’s VC, the glorious Glosters at Imjin River and Hill 327. More recently, though, maybe 25 years ago, when I was working in the banking world, I was told that Korea was a good place that could build ships, and that it could undertake major contracts. I am afraid I did not believe it. Then I found that the Korean contractors—I still called all of them “Korean”—were some of the most successful in the Middle East, that their shipbuilding side was outstanding, and that on the electronic side they had become pretty important.

In looking at trade and the opportunities that go with it, there is no such thing as geography, and here politics comes into it. I was always amazed that when I worked in and with some of the extreme socialist states such as Libya, Angola, Cuba, Vietnam or even Iran, they all had a trading relationship. I shall use Vietnam as an example. It was a total no-go area. It was the “axis of evil”. It had a close relationship with Iran when I was out there. I found to my amazement that there were swaps going on for rice and energy. North Vietnam had a problem, however: the rice was broken. I had no knowledge of rice. I knew that Thai rice was among the best in the world, and I do not think many of us ever believed the rice world would grow to be so broad and wide. I was asked by the Vietnamese if I could help them, because it was the British who had put in the original mills that were now breaking and grinding the rice in the wrong way. Somewhere out of the woodwork in the United Kingdom came an elderly man who had been out there and knew all about it, and before long various bits of kit were sent out to repair the mills. Then it turned out that North Vietnam had a valuable deep water port, and the Norwegian shipping industry decided to go and revitalise it. Now many people go on holiday to North Vietnam.

In the financial world we always had a rule: you did not finance any country unless you had been there, and “been there” meant you had to have been there within the previous 90 days. I found to my surprise, when I was introduced to North Korea—I have not been there; this is the only time I have spoken in this House about a country to which I have not been—that I was an unwilling interlocutor between some forms of extremists. I mentioned that in your Lordships’ House in an earlier debate.

I was dragged into all this. I was in Berlin last week, seeing the same sort of friends, and they said, “You British have got a role here. You must help North Korea”. I said, “How can we do that?”, and they said, “Oh Lord, go and see them. Tell them what you think”. I went to see Ambassador Pak, an elderly ambassador in the Korean Embassy in Berlin, when there were no other people around. I have the feeling that Berlin is still the centre of North Korean politics in Europe. I sat down with the ambassador and his chargé, and said, “Can I speak openly?”. He said, “Yes. Can I speak openly too?”. I said, “Look, you’ve got get rid of all this nuclear stuff. Everybody’s getting worked up about it. What can I do to help? Can’t we give you a few power stations or things like that instead? We won’t tell anybody, but we could do that”.

They reminded me, as I was reminded again last week, that the United States had originally proposed to build North Korea a nuclear power station, before pulling out, because power was one of the problems that created serious difficulties for the country. These days there are new developments, and I think we should give North Korea a nuclear power station. Coal power stations were also suggested, as it has coal. As your Lordships will be aware, there has been a cycle in the nuclear world with a return to thorium, which is safe and non-weapons grade.

We had these discussions, and they said they would like a few power stations. I said, “What about the Americans? They’re the ones who cause the problems”. They said, “Ah. You see, this all began when they came up the Daedong River, robbed the tombs of our ancestors and took the gold crowns out”. I have never been able to find out who did that, or how. They continued: “Then they made more difficulties for us so we had to let them know that, although they did one good thing—President Roosevelt in 1906 got the Nobel peace prize for ending the Russo-Japanese war”. My knowledge of conflicts in that part of the world is limited.

Their tirade against the United States went on. That was why Korea had to have the Taepo Dong 1, the short-range missile, which was quite good, so many of them were made. It was also why Korea sent the Taepo Dong 2 over Japan. The missile was empty, as was pointed out. It was rather like the situation with Iraqi Scud missiles; you want to frighten people and make them think you are more important and powerful than you are. That is why the Taepo Dong 3 has a range that, I am told, would take out Washington and New York. When I spent some time in Ukraine and went around the Dnipropetrovsk missile factory, they had SS-24s, or maybe SS-25s or SS-26s. I said, “How far do you go up? Why does everyone go progressively from one number to the next—one, two, three? Why don’t they jump a few?”. “Ah,” they said, “you don’t know that we don’t have an SS-50”. During my conversations in Berlin, the ambassador said, “There may be many other missiles—and of course we are going to join the space race”.

Here is a very proud people who would tell you that they have 16,000 howitzers which can land on Seoul. As we were talking in German, I was not quite sure what a howitzer was these days—I thought it was something antique. I met Dr Hans Haubenschild, quite a remarkable man. Sometimes you can go into a room and feel that the person you are with is a good man. He was in charge of the East German training programme for Koreans before perestroika and had trained 600 young Korean orphans. They were sent back, so many a year, over 10 to 20 years, trained in everything. I asked whether that could have included nuclear, and he said that it included everything, from the full range of the arts. Then I was attacked because of who had made them orphans—the United States of America. The anti-American feeling is genuine in a way but much of it is, I feel, promotional.

Dr Haubenschild died a year ago, and I was asked to the funeral. He was replaced by another man, who was trying to see whether the British could help get rid of the mines between north and south. He even asked whether I could put him in touch with the people who had the support of Princess Diana. When I had these discussions, I was told that they all get together some time but that they had different cultures and different rules. When I said that the extreme left was fading away, I was told that the Cubans were too liberal for them now, Iran was changing and there is no solid grouping of extreme left states any more. So they will move with the times.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, quite rightly, there is a need for a carrot. I have a feeling that we should be looking at helping them with their power stations and in other fields, but doing a trade in reduction. At 11.28 this morning a statement was sent out from Beijing that Christopher Hill had returned with a promise from North Korea that the discussions over the past two days would be considered very seriously. I believe there is a chance that these discussions could be considered seriously, provided that someone else can intervene and broker them. I do not think that the United States can do that and, in a strange way, nor can we.

In Germany this week, the all-party group sat with the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and various committees and talked about Iran, Iraq and North Korea. They seem pretty well determined that they would do what they could during their presidency to solve these problems. Recognising that the relationships that existed between East Germany and North Korea might have been stronger than any other, I believe that the Germans could play an important leading role. When we had our chargé in North Korea, he was in the German compound.

I have been told that many of the NGOs are finding it difficult to do things over there. I was told last week that things were not quite so serious on the food front; they are managing but they do not want to use the begging bowl because of their pride.

It is a country which offers a great challenge. I believe that there is a genuine possibility that it could be united, possibly within my lifetime. Once these things start, they move quickly. But unless we can help them build and develop their economy, we will find it extremely difficult. I hold no brief for any political views; I have been with the left, the right, the north and the south. I have been attacked as a lackey of British imperialism. I have had everything thrown at me and have absorbed it with sloping shoulders.

What we need is dialogue. It was put to me that perhaps the least democratic and worst country in the world was a British colony called Rhodesia. The devils in the world are all around. Our Government and others should do the maximum to start a dialogue between individuals, not necessarily Governments.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for calling this debate on North Korea. As we discussed in the debate on the gracious Speech, the international security outlook is very gloomy, and proliferation is high on the agenda. In looking for the best way forward, as your Lordships will do throughout this debate, we need to reflect on the various approaches tried in recent years, learn the lessons from them and look at the policy options that could help to counter the proliferation problem, to benefit regional stability in the longer term and to improve the prospects of the benighted people of North Korea.

While the nuclear test of 9 October this year was presumably North Korea wanting to signal its membership of the nuclear club, the country has, of course, been working towards this moment for a very long time, going back to its civil nuclear programme of the 1960s. By the early 1990s, the United States was concerned that it might have already extracted enough plutonium-based fissile material from a research reactor to make a bomb. That led to the negotiated agreed framework, which was designed to provide two light-water reactors and oil to compensate for the nuclear energy lost in return for a freeze on the North Korean nuclear programme. That light-water project, as we heard, fell behind schedule, and we know now that from 1996 the North Koreans started a covert programme of uranium enrichment, which they eventually admitted to in 2002.

While all this was going on, the diplomatic game changed very significantly, with the change of US Administration at the start of 2001. It certainly appeared at first that the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, would continue the Clinton Administration’s policy of diplomacy as the best way of preventing North Korea from becoming a nuclear weapons state. But very early in 2001 the Secretary of State was countermanded by President Bush, who made it clear that he no longer supported the north/south dialogue. A year later, in the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush completed the diplomatic isolation of North Korea by making it number three on the axis of evil.

It is easy to argue that North Korea would have continued on the path to its nuclear test whatever the circumstances, even if support had continued for the sunshine policy rather than the country’s inclusion on the hit list represented by the axis of evil. However, it is clear that once Iraq, the number one nation on the axis of evil, was invaded, the other two—Iran and North Korea—were reinforced rather than deterred in their views about the need for nuclear capability. By the time the diplomatic path found favour again through the six-party talks, which started in August 2003 after North Korea had withdrawn from the NPT, it was clear that North Korea’s attitude was that the United States would remain a hostile power.

Now that the test has happened, we need to assess the threat that that capability represents and, in the light of that, what we need to do. Assessing North Korea’s nuclear capability is a somewhat imperfect art. It must be based on the amount of fissile material produced each year, the technical capability to weaponise it and the availability of delivery systems. There seems widespread agreement that the test of 9 October produced a surprisingly low yield—less than 1 kilotonne. That could mean that it was an only partially successful fizzle, in the terminology of the nuclear weapons people, or that the North Koreans are so advanced that they can produce extraordinarily low-yield weapons. I think the former is more likely. In plutonium-based weapons, such a fizzle can result from pre-detonation, insufficient manufacturing precision or impurities in the weapons material. That suggests that they have some way to go before they can produce an assured weaponised capability in a form which can be delivered over a distance.

Estimates on the amount of fissile material North Korea can produce are also uncertain. I draw for my data upon the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. On plutonium, North Korea currently has one small 5 megawatt electric reactor which is calculated to have produced, during its lifetime, 43 kilograms of plutonium, plus or minus 10 kilograms. That represents between five and 15 weapons’ worth, a rate of production that will produce one new bomb per year.

There is a larger reactor, which North Korea still has not finished building, although it has been under construction for some 20 years. If that were ever brought into service, North Korea could produce enough plutonium for 10 to 15 bombs per year. Delivery systems, which were also an important part of the threat that North Korea’s weapons represent, are another problem area for the country. The failure of the test firings on 5 July shows that it has some way to go with its missile technology. Even when you have the missile and the warhead, you still have the problem of how you put them together and get them to fit into each other. So we need to take a long view about when North Korea will be able to threaten its neighbours with a fully working nuclear weapons system.

Nuclear weapons are not the only threat that North Korea presents. There is a whole range of security questions, and one needs to consider all of them when strategising about how to tackle North Korea. I shall try to put in rough order the threats that North Korea poses to the international system.

First, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the primary threat is to North Korea’s own people, who are suffering not only an intolerable abuse of human rights but deprivation, famine and death from both natural and state causes. I think that the whole GDP of North Korea is somewhat less than the defence budget that the Minister looks after.

The second most important threat is what would happen if the state were to collapse or implode and refugees flooded across the borders from north to south. There is a potential population of 23 million.

The third threat that I would worry about is the still possible conventional war. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, may not be sure what howitzers North Korea has, but it has an awful lot of them and a very big conventional capability, which is within range of being able to take out Seoul. Under “conventional” I include chemical weapons, because North Korea is assumed to have a fairly strong chemical weapons capability.

The fourth threat that I would worry about is the effect of North Korea coming into the nuclear club on other potential proliferators. How we handle that will affect what other potential proliferators decide to do. The fifth threat is the potential sale of nuclear capability to third parties.

Then we come on to the direct threats. First, there are the threats to regional neighbours, including Japan, from North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and then the much longer-term threat of a longer-range strategic possibility. When we look for policies, we have to take into account that if we counter one concern and tackle only one problem we may exacerbate others. We need a strategy that addresses all the problems with the best possible outcome. The UN Security Council resolution following the tests, which has been mentioned, was useful in showing a united international view. Despite the North Korean claims that sanctions were an act of war, seeing China and Russia support the United Nations must have helped put pressure on the regime. The return of North Korea to the six-party talks is also a sign of hope.

North Korea is a very fragile state, however, and the international community, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, needs to be careful that it does not turn the screw so tightly that it collapses uncontrollably. It may be that, as Robert Kaplan has argued, we shall see a future in which China will play a bigger part, establishing its own client regime to produce a sort of Tibetan-style colony, which might bring less risk of instability but would scarcely deliver the free North Korea that we should be seeking in the longer term.

When we look at options for action, it is a relief that, for once, not even the most hawkish experts are arguing for military intervention. There seems little doubt that there would be an immediate military response against South Korea, with massive death and destruction. There would also be a reluctance to contemplate a military stabilisation exercise in the event of regime collapse, with the continuing experience in Iraq. Sanctions as an option are limited; the loss of food aid, as we have heard from both South Korea and China, has been very painful—but more painful to the citizens than to the leadership. Another famine is not impossible; whether that would be the breaking point for the repressed people is a very dangerous gamble.

All that is an argument for containment of the nuclear threat from North Korean strategic weapons and, perhaps more urgently, the risk of onward transmission of nuclear material to third parties. Such sales, either to potential proliferators or extremist terror organisations, need to be taken seriously. These transfers will not happen across the land between North Korea and South Korea, and, given China’s increasingly tight control of the border, I do not think that they will go by land across the north. That leaves sea and air transfers. The proliferation security initiative must have a part to play in this, and I hope that the Minister will say something about how he sees the UK contributing to the development of policies that will promote security in this area. Intercepting ships on the high seas may not lead to calm diplomatic relations around the world but stopping dissemination of nuclear material from North Korea is key. Nor is it obvious how we handle the air freighting issue.

As the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Selsdon, said, we are brought back all the time to the question of dialogue and engagement. There are few options beyond continuing dialogue that can offer certain and benevolent outcomes. As we saw with the end of the Soviet Union, change can come very fast and very unexpectedly. We shall need to be ready to help without appearing to be imperial when the time comes. Diplomacy should be tempered with better long-term strategy. As we have seen with all three members of President Bush’s axis of evil, such characterisation and isolation can have a real negative impact on international security.

My Lords, North Korea’s decision last month to conduct a first nuclear test can hardly be said to have taken the world by surprise. Not only was it signalled well in advance by intelligence analysis but it fitted precisely into the pattern of defiance of international treaty obligations and international opinion that has characterised North Korea’s policies throughout the 60 years of its existence as an independent state. This is a country that has invaded its neighbour; which used state-controlled terrorism; which seems to have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty principally to provide cover for a covert nuclear weapons programme; which has watched many of its citizens starve to death; and which abuses their human rights more comprehensively than any other state.

If North Korea’s nuclear test should not have been a surprise, it is certainly a major shock to the whole system of international controls against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and, more widely, to the prospects for peace and security in north-east Asia and beyond. So the fact that it is about as far away from this country as anywhere on Earth should not be a cause for complacency or detachment. It is surely right that we should have a full debate on this issue today, and I warmly thank my noble friend Lord Alton for having initiated it.

Faced with this litany of transgressions of international law, standards and disciplines, largely unpunished and certainly not effectively countered over the years, it is easy to head towards one or other of two extremes. We can either conclude that nothing much can be done with a regime so defiant of international opinion and thus lapse into helpless verbal denunciation or, alternatively, examine the case for threatening and, if necessary, using force to bring about a change in North Korea’s policies.

Either course would be mistaken. The first course is likely to lead to spreading nuclearisation of the whole region and the fall into disrepute of many of the multilateral disciplines that protect our security and human rights. The second course, quite apart from the risk of a nuclear exchange and the extreme vulnerability of the South Korean capital, Seoul, would be a mistake because we are not yet at a point at which it would be reasonable to conclude that the preferable alternatives of a combination of reassurance and pressure have no chance of succeeding.

Another trap to be avoided would be falling back into disunity and arguing that the current predicament is all the fault of the US Administration’s policy during President Bush’s first term of office. Here my assessment differs somewhat from that of the noble Lord, Lord Garden. It is fashionable enough to criticise the Bush Administration’s policies on pretty well every front. It was misguided to have broken the thread of the discussion with North Korea that the previous Administration had so laboriously established. However, there is ample evidence—the noble Lord, Lord Garden, referred to it—of the fact that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions were not in fact being held in check, let alone reversed, by that dialogue and none whatever for believing that last month’s test was simply a response to unfair and bellicose treatment. The international community would most likely have found itself in a predicament similar to this one, irrespective of the US Administration’s initial policy response when it came into office.

What is the best way ahead? First, it clearly is urgent to reconstitute the six-nation talks, which offer by far the best prospect of a negotiated outcome. It is good to hear that there is some chance of them resuming before too long. We should not be looking on those talks just as a short-term method of fixing a particularly acute problem. Rather, they should be seen as foreshadowing a permanent sub-regional organisation that could provide the international disciplines and the underpinning for peace and security in the north-east Asian region, with North Korea playing its full part in it. Embedding concepts such as the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the commitment to avoid the pursuit of regime change by force will be of much greater and more lasting value if they are part of a multilateral framework in which all members participate as equals, as is now the case in many other regions and sub-regions around the world. Aiming at such a desirable outcome may well, and almost certainly will, require some direct dealings between the US and North Korea, but those should not be seen as the be-all and end-all of activities on the diplomatic track.

There clearly does have to be pressure on North Korea through targeted economic sanctions, such as those decided by the UN Security Council last month. A policy lacking such an instrument, when faced with such open defiance and obduracy, would lack any credibility. Targeted economic sanctions can be effective, as was demonstrated in the case of Libya, but they need to be pursued with a determination to make them effective. In the immediate aftermath of the sanctions decision in New York last month, there was to my mind far too much talk of what the sanctions would not consist of rather than what they would consist of. It is regrettable that the Government of South Korea are not willing to fully implement the proliferation security initiative designed to interdict North Korean trade in prohibited items. Perhaps some change in that attitude may occur after the country’s elections next year.

There is the enigma of China’s attitude towards the implementation of sanctions. In truth, China’s role in the handling of policy towards North Korea is absolutely central to the outcome. A China whose economic strength and political influence continue to grow, and whose position as North Korea’s main trading partner and principal ally is of long standing, cannot possibly escape from the centrality of that role. It can exercise it by default by doing as little as possible, in which case a negotiated outcome is exceptionally unlikely. Or it can exercise it by actively shaping solutions to the main problems and by making clear that further acts of defiance by North Korea will bring further pressure on it from a united international community. No doubt China will reach decisions on which version of its role to assume on the basis of its own calculation of its own national interest. That is what countries tend to do. China has much to lose from any further destabilisation or nuclearisation of the north-east Asian region, and much to gain from drawing the sting from the current, highly unstable situation.

It may be argued that the approach that I am suggesting, which is quite close to that suggested by my noble friend Lord Alton, places too little emphasis on the sufferings and the human rights of the North Korean people. That criticism was levelled at the Helsinki Charter, which was signed some 30 years ago between the then Soviet Union and its then satellites, on the one side, and the countries of what can loosely be called the West on the other. It was said that, by accepting and legitimising the post-war division of Europe, we were somehow abandoning the peoples of eastern Europe to their fate. It did not quite turn out like that. A combination of time and patience, together with modest incremental steps towards opening up their societies to the outside world and increasing economic interaction with that world, brought about major changes and opened the way to a peaceful transition to what we now call the post-Cold War world. It may seem a bit over-sanguine to assume that the same process could work as well at the other end of the world in quite different circumstances, but what are the viable alternatives? If there is none, would we not be better served by trying this approach? I would strongly support what my noble friend Lord Alton described as Helsinki with an Asian face.

One final thought. The problems posed by North Korea’s nuclear test clearly need to be addressed on their own merits and in their own regional context. We should not lose sight of the wider picture. That test was only one, even if the most immediate, of the threats to the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, which is under greater stress than it has ever been before. Last year, the international community failed twice—at the NPT review conference in May and at the UN summit in September—to strengthen that regime. It is surely high time now to resume the effort to do that and not simply to devote all our energies to dealing with the individual cases of North Korea and Iran. There are plenty of ideas out there on the table; among them are proposals for a nuclear fissile material cut-off treaty and for the internationally guaranteed supply of enriched uranium for legitimate, civil nuclear purposes, which we discussed in this House as recently as earlier this week. What is needed now is a concerted campaign to reach agreement on some of these proposals. I hope that the Minister will be able to say how firmly the Government are committed to that purpose and what they intend to do to bring it about.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. I apologise to him, because owing to the rather rapid collapse of the earlier debate I missed the first part of his remarks. I was very interested in the second part, and I deeply apologise. One of the most attractive of the many attractive attributes of the noble Lord is that he never gives up hope in his fellow human beings. The visit that he paid, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, to North Korea, illustrated once again that his faith and belief that human beings can be changed and can be made to think again about what they do has borne rich fruit, because he is one of the few of us who has had access to North Korea and has met in North Korea a good many of its citizens. That was unexpected from the point of view of those of us who see it as entirely a hermit kingdom. It goes to show what a long way hope and faith will carry one. I pay due tribute to him for that characteristic and for having taken that chance. We have heard some interesting speeches.

I refer at outset to the original arrangement—the so-called “agreed framework”—that established the organisation KEDO, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. Two things lead from it. First, we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that many of the countries of Asia, particularly north Asia, with which we are dealing in this debate, have a very strong sense of history. That strong sense of history has been largely lost in western Europe and the United States, and often we therefore know very little about the background and the tradition of the countries with which we are dealing. North Korea is a good example of a country that has for long periods been isolated from the rest of the world, dependent on itself and not familiar with the ways of diplomacy. One of the things that we can read from the story of the KEDO agency and the original arrangement that was made in 1994 is that it is essential to remember that countries have this very long sense of history.

It is also essential to remember—and it is not unfair to make some criticism of the Bush Administration in this context—that democracies often quite rapidly change course, particularly in the United States, between one Administration and another. The path that had been consistently, conscientiously and rather slowly pursued by President Clinton’s Administration was suddenly broken off in 2001 by the Bush Administration. We can fully understand the change in policies between different democratic parties that are elected to government, but doing so is not altogether easy for a country with the kind of tradition that North Korea is part of, and it can be put down to intentions that to this day North Korea clearly believes that the American Administration have towards it.

Tragically, one of the things that we have to learn is that cutting off diplomatic relations with another country is never very wise. We have of course the example of North Korea, but also of Iran, as countries with which the United States has cut off bilateral relationships. That often means that the level of knowledge and information is suddenly reduced, sometimes with serious consequences for the ability to build solutions. I also remind colleagues that it was the nuclear posture review of January 2002, one of the earliest reviews conducted by the Bush Administration, which listed North Korea as a possible target.

I want to look for a moment at the attitude of the neighbours, because it is of crucial significance to our debate. As a number of noble Lords have said, South Korea is desperately vulnerable to an attack by North Korea. The fact that so many conventional weapons in North Korea are targeted at Seoul, a very large urban area, has had a major impact on the so-called sunshine policy pursued by South Korea, which it is extremely reluctant to abandon. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the significance of South Korea in supporting the current sanctions. All of us can also understand why South Korea is keen to strike a balance between what it is asked to do internationally and the risks to its own population. It may be more difficult for South Korea to take that risk than for us to advocate that it should do so. Its position is extremely difficult.

In that respect, we have not yet mentioned the so-called sunshine policy’s effect on the two mid-Korea projects relating to the industrial and tourist areas, which have been established between the two Koreas and would be put at risk by the sanctions. There are real questions about whether they should be affected, given the South Korean attempt to build bridges with North Korea, which in its situation is extremely understandable.

China has behaved in a constructive way, so far at least, in this episode. Not only did it back United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, surprisingly and very strongly, but I understand that the most significant single factor in persuading North Korea to back away from continuing enrichment without returning to the six-power talks was the final decision by the Banco Delta in Macau to refuse to continue cash transfers of an illegal nature to North Korea. Without them, North Korea has seen the creation of an effective financial sanction on it that embraces both so-called legitimate trade and illegitimate trade, with grave consequences for North Korea. It was almost certainly China’s influence that led to the Banco Delta ending its cash transfers to North Korea, so—I am not certain of this—we probably owe to China the effect of that on North Korea, which has been greater than any other of the sanctions so far proposed.

We have also not talked much about Japan. It is of crucial significance what attitude it takes towards the possible reform of its constitution proposed by the new Administration there, and whether it moves away from being a non-nuclear power by conviction, if I may put it that way—a country like Germany that is simply determined not to go back to the traditional military attitudes that survived there until and shortly after the Second World War. The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hannay, referred to a denuclearised Korean peninsula. We must not see a move towards a nuclear Japan at this time, and want to do nothing that might encourage it. That means putting the emphasis on a denuclearised Korean peninsula, not the other way round. I cannot put too much emphasis on that. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to the possibility of instability in north-east Asia and of the proliferation of nuclear weapons in that region. Japan is key to holding that situation, and we must take its considerations profoundly in mind as well.

Last of all among the issues that confront us, I want to refer to one that my noble friend Lord Garden mentioned as his fifth major concern about threats. I would move it much higher, though I defer to his greater knowledge. I believe that the single greatest short-run threat is that North Korea, which has proved itself on many occasions an utterly irresponsible trader in the field, might be one of the sources of nuclear weapons and technology for some of the most dubious and frightening groups, if not states, in the world. North Korea has shown no scruples about to whom it sells its nuclear technology and knowledge. There is no reason why it will show any such scruples in future given the parlous state of its economy, which means that its nuclear technology is among the few things that might be exportable to the rest of the world. That brings us up hard against two really difficult questions. I am sure that the Minister will address them so far as he is able; I fully understand that there are probably great limitations at present in what he can say.

The first is the issue of how far one can maintain sanctions against trade from North Korea to the outside world, and what that will entail. What it will entail is already partly being met by China, which has begun inspections of lorries and trucks passing from North Korea across its border. That is a very recent development. The bigger question is whether there should be some form of naval intervention in trade from North Korea through the seas, and particularly whether that might be escalated to a naval blockade, as is suggested in Washington. A naval blockade will almost certainly involve the United States Navy as the one that would be capable of carrying it out. I raise that simply as a question, but it is a difficult aspect of the whole relationship between North Korea and the outside world.

The second point in that respect, which I want to talk about very quickly, is whether the whole question of North Korea as a trading nation in nuclear matters has not to be part of what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke about—a much wider approach to proliferation. That brings me to the last part of what I want to say. If we believe that we have to take a much larger approach than simply dealing with North Korea one day, Iran another day, and some country as yet unknown on a third day, we have to look at our systematic response to nuclear proliferation and, as he pointed out, the gradual breakdown of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. If that treaty is to be shored up, it will require much more imaginative and far-reaching steps than we have taken. I come back to the issue raised in this House last week, and by me much earlier—whether we do not need a major international push towards the supply of low-enriched uranium from guaranteed, internationally monitored and controlled sources. That does not mean China, the United States or Russia, but the International Atomic Energy Agency as the one and only international body that all the different countries respect and most of them belong to.

That means that we have to see support from the United Kingdom Government and many other Governments for, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, briefly mentioned, the proposal for a substantial fuel bank to supply low-enriched uranium suitable only for civil energy to those countries that are willing to engage in it. It will make it clear that any country that retains highly enriched uranium will be under very strict monitoring by the IAEA for that reason alone and associated with it there should be an attempt to try to cut off the supply of fissile energy materials.

In conclusion, we have to take this matter far beyond the individual case of North Korea, serious though that is, because we are now looking at a slide towards proliferation that must be stopped if the world is to be saved.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on introducing this very timely debate with a characteristically comprehensive, well informed and thoughtful speech reflecting, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, his tireless endeavours to promote human rights and justice for all people.

As my noble friend mentioned, we travelled together to North Korea in 2003. We had been vocal in our concerns over numerous reports of gross, widespread, state-sponsored violations of human rights and a massive suffering endured by people in a Stalin-style totalitarian society. On our return, we established the All-Party Parliamentary Group for two reasons: to maintain constructive contacts with those in North Korea who are trying to make it emerge from isolation, and to build a bridge to enable us to continue to convey our concerns over problems such as those reflected in this debate.

To a great extent, the North Korean nuclear test was a demonstration of the obvious. The DPRK was known to have some form of nuclear capacity since the early 1990s, but, given its defiance of international pressure not to conduct the test, the decision to do so has enhanced the urgency of the need to address the grave threat that the country poses, both internationally and to its own people.

I will focus on the dire humanitarian and human rights situation created by the North Korean regime. The main reason for oppressing its people is its fear of real and imaginary conspiracies and the main reason for the people’s suffering is the diversion of the country’s limited resources to the strategic military build-up, with its growing arsenal of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. Hence, the security posture of North Korea is inherently linked to the plight of its people.

Consistent evidence of wide-scale, systematic and extreme forms of human rights abuse presents a prima facie case against North Korea. Freedom of expression and religion are strictly controlled. Freedom of movement, assembly and association are strictly curtailed. Any persons deemed to be less than entirely loyal or worthy citizens are subject to swift and harsh penalties. It is not possible to obtain a systematic overview of punishment, but there is now a body of evidence from victims and perpetrators of human rights abuses. I have interviewed some of those who have escaped to South Korea and there are many reports that give a spine-chillingly consistent picture.

Arrest and interrogation routinely involve water torture, severe beatings, sexual assault and sleep deprivation. After interrogation, political prisoners who are not executed are sent to a detention facility from which they may never emerge alive. For those who do, conditions in prisons and camps are brutal, with severe undernourishment, appalling sanitary conditions and long hours of gruelling labour. Prisoners are deformed as a result of abuse, malnutrition and hard and dangerous work.

The report Failure to Protect estimates that there are at least 200,000 in gulag-like camps and prisons, including the families of offenders who are often sent to prison alongside the alleged offender. One witness described how even young children may be interned in such prisons. They are not allowed any contact with their mothers, who, heartbreakingly, can see but not comfort them with food and warmth. Work in the prisons and labour camps is gruelling, deforming and dangerous. The slightest mistake can result in the harshest of punishments. Prisoners often die due to violence, overwork, malnutrition and unsanitary conditions. Those deemed to have committed an offence may be sent to punishment chambers measuring around 2 by 2 by 3 feet. Living conditions are barbaric, with starvation rations.

Constant hunger has been described as worse than beatings. Prisoners are crammed into overcrowded cells and may not be able even to lie down. They are deprived of sleep and given minimal clothing, even in the extreme cold of North Korea’s mountain regions. North Koreans frequently refer to witnessing executions. Typically, victims who have obviously been tortured are dragged out in front of an assembled crowd to be executed by firing squad. The victims are prevented from speaking by stones thrust into their mouths.

Religious freedom is harshly oppressed. North Koreans systematically report that being a Christian is viewed as a serious crime. Korea has a history of persecution and martyrdom. In the 18th and 19th centuries, over 8,000 Christians died for their faith. Martyrdom continues today. One escapee told me how he had witnessed the martyrdom of three Christians in his labour camp, which operated an iron foundry. One day, all the inmates were forced to stand in a large circle. The guards brought the three Christians into the centre and ordered them to recant or face death by having molten iron poured over them. They refused to recant and died singing while they fried in the molten iron.

One urgent issue is repatriation, especially by China. Those who have fled from North Korea are forced to return to virtually certain brutal punishment and probably execution. In returning them, China consistently refuses to acknowledge its international obligations.

North Korea is committed to provide free healthcare, but is failing to do so. Nationwide, but particularly in rural areas, health facilities and equipment levels are poor or non-existent, training of healthcare workers is weak and modern drugs are often not available. In May 2004, the British medical organisation Merlin—I declare an interest as a founder trustee—assessed the humanitarian needs of South Hamgyong province in the north-east of North Korea. This area, characterised by large urban populations and mountainous regions, is often difficult to access by the Government and international NGOs, particularly during winter. Therefore, the region has been starved of essential resources. In 2004, no other medical NGO was providing healthcare in this region and to our knowledge that remains the case.

Severe food shortages have caused high levels of chronic malnutrition, to which my noble friend Lord Alton has referred, known as stunting, among children under six. In 2004, UNICEF’s nutrition survey estimated that 37 per cent of children were malnourished, with the figure rising in South Hamgyong province to 47 per cent. Maternal malnutrition was also serious. Some 22 per cent of mothers were found to have anaemia, increasing the risk of low-weight babies. The number of maternal deaths has increased sharply in the past 10 years. Newborn care and newborn mortality are closely associated with maternal health and mortality. Diarrhoeal disease has increased because of deterioration in water and sanitation systems, and acute respiratory tract infections, compounded by underlying malnutrition, contribute to high rates of child illness and death. In 1996, mortality rates for under-fives in North Korea were 39.3 per 1,000 live births; by 2002, this had increased to 48.8 per 1,000 live births.

In response to Merlin’s assessment, the North Korean Ministry of Health agreed that Merlin should work to enhance the capacity of the existing healthcare system at community, county and provincial levels. But despite this agreement and financial support from the European Union, Merlin was unable to gain permission from the Government to work in-country for more than a few weeks at a time, making the implementation of a health programme impossible. Merlin made representations to the ambassador in London, but could not gain any concessions and decided reluctantly, and tragically, that it was unable to proceed.

I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will ensure that humanitarian access remains a key focus of their bilateral and multilateral discussions with the North Korean Government. In particular, will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to North Korea to lift restrictions on the operation of humanitarian NGOs? Those restrictions are so stringent and impractical that they prevent the NGOs from operating in areas where they are desperately needed.

In conclusion, North Korea’s leaders manifestly feel extremely precarious and consequently they are increasingly a threat to international security. The nuclear test can be seen as a symptom of that perceived vulnerability. Classified as part of the “axis of evil” and isolated from the rest of the world, the North Koreans believe that they are targets for hostile conspiracies, especially by the United States. These fears dominate Pyongyang’s world view. The challenge is how to find ways forward that do not exacerbate the situation by driving the leadership further down the road of volatile and dangerous policies adopted for its perceived self-defence. Wisely construed humanitarian and economic engagement could demonstrate to the authorities in Pyongyang that the rest of the world is not hostile and is not conspiring against them. That approach could help to allay Pyongyang’s fears, thereby reducing North Korea’s threat to the security of the global community.

The United Kingdom, with diplomatic representation in Pyongyang, is well placed to act as a mediator and confidence builder as well as to urge the North Korean Government to give safe and unhindered access to all parts of the country for the UN and international organisations to provide humanitarian assistance and to secure the release of all political prisoners. Such measures would pave the way for further provision for fundamental freedoms, including political and religious freedoms.

I hope that your Lordships will acknowledge that I am not known as a soft touch as far as human rights and fundamental freedoms are concerned, but I am also a realist, and I believe that it is possible to make progress in improving the plight of the people of North Korea only by working with the situation as it is. Its leadership is not going to relinquish its nuclear weapons capacity as a result of further threats, intimidation and isolation. The issue is not the existence of nuclear weapons, but the beliefs and behaviour of the leadership, which will decide if and when to use them. Therefore, I reiterate that a policy with incentives for constructive engagement that encourages regional economic development and looking outside is the best way forward for the leadership of North Korea. That will reduce the insecurity, and thereby the fears, of the regime, which is the ultimate cause of its security policy and military build-up. If and when that closed society begins to open, fears can be allayed and the problems of human rights violations and humanitarian crises can begin to be addressed.

Her Majesty’s Government, who have an established relationship with North Korea, are well placed to undertake such a constructive engagement. I hope that the Minister will be able to give such an assurance. Such a policy would not prevent criticism of the utterly unacceptable and barbaric policies that I have described, and which no one could condone, but it could represent the most propitious way forward for the leadership of North Korea in its present state of mind, for the international community and for the long-suffering population facing another bitter winter of hunger and disease, prisons and labour camps. Their interests must surely be one of our main priorities today.

My Lords, I have not visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, although not for want of trying. I therefore speak as an outsider. Despite that, there have been several opportunities in the recent past to learn more about what is going on in the DPRK from a variety of informed sources, including academics, US and UK officials and the UN special rapporteur Mr Muntarbhorn.

What are the main messages that come across from those briefings? They are that North Korea is isolated, fearful, economically and militarily impoverished and pretty convinced that the US is ready to attack it at any moment, which suggests that bilateral talks between Pyongyang and Washington are an urgent necessity. It suffers an absolute shortage of food—as evidenced by reliable production figures, which demonstrate an annual shortfall of food—and shocking infant and maternal mortality and morbidity due in large part to an insufficient food intake.

North Korea’s expenditure decisions underline its major concerns: whereas the US spends approximate $0.58 per person on defence, the equivalent figure for North Korea is $11.50 per person. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, gave a list of threats that North Korea poses, and I shall add another threat that is equally important as the threat of nuclear missiles, and possibly even more dangerous—the possibility of a nuclear accident, which is very likely in a country that has low technological skills.

The DPRK has a brutal disregard for human rights, and democratic freedoms are almost non-existent, as we have heard from several noble Lords. It is a rogue state, and is, according to the US Administration, a member of the “axis of evil”. As the leader, Kim Jong-il, is apparently willing to sacrifice citizens in order to maintain a prideful stance, many thousands of people may well die in the coming months due to starvation.

Famine is not a wholly natural disaster; it is more a man-made one. It is therefore also preventable. Having studied the phenomenon of famine for many years in many parts of the world, we know that early warning indicators of that long-onset disaster are obvious and readable. Famine is, to a large extent, a product of totalitarian regimes in which early crop failure is ignored and there is no public discourse to discuss causes or preventive action. One of the best examples of that is the great leap forward famine in China between 1959 and 1961, during which something like 20 million people died because no one dared tell the great leader that his people were starving. Famine is also hugely more likely in conditions of war and conflict where normal lines of exchange are disrupted. Famine is almost never caused by an absolute shortage of food; it is caused by food becoming too expensive for people to buy as a result of market hoarding and other actions. When people begin to move, even across borders, in large numbers in search of food or feeding camps, it is usually taken as the first sign of famine, but it is, in fact, the terminal stage—at that stage, it is almost impossible to prevent a massive number of deaths from starvation.

All the indicators are that massive starvation is imminent in North Korea. One wonders what the international community can do to prevent the ongoing tragedy of starvation in North Korea and, in particular, what the UK Government, who have a somewhat remote connection with North Korea, can do. The DPRK accepted food aid during the floods of the 1990s and in the earlier years of this century. The main donors were South Korea, China and the UN World Food Programme. However, earlier this year, the DPRK suspended World Food Programme distribution and banned the private sale of grain. The much hated public distribution system was reintroduced. Under it, food is given according to whether a family, not an individual, is deemed to be loyal, wavering or hostile to the regime. Needless to say, families that were deemed to be hostile received almost no aid.

The DPRK has been a UN member since 1991 and is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It can therefore be considered to be a fully fledged member of the UN. That may afford the international community some opportunity for intervention. The right to food is a clear right and is enshrined in the economic, social and cultural rights covenant.

It is clearly in the interests of the DPRK’s immediate neighbours—South Korea and China—to avert a humanitarian disaster, which would have a massively destabilising effect on the region. Once people begin to move in large numbers, that has a destabilising effect, as we have seen in many parts of the world, particularly in the Horn of Africa.

Can the Minister and the Government use their good offices and their influence, not only with China and South Korea—and possibly also with Japan, which might have some leverage with North Korea—but within the forums of the UN, and to some extent the EU, to pursue some pragmatic actions to try to gain a relationship with North Korea that would prevent some of the awful tragedies that are about to happen? One of the major issues would be to continue to offer food aid to North Korea. The leader, Kim Jong-il, has decided that NGOs and the WFP should no longer be active in North Korea. We should ask that food continues to be offered and that the North Korean Government accept that it is necessary to resume the distribution of food aid. At the same time, we could perhaps request that the distribution is fair and equitable, which is possibly a long-lost hope but is nevertheless important to mention. Incidentally, China and South Korea are prepared to give food unconditionally, whereas that is not true of the WFP. That should be thought about and perhaps negotiated. There is huge scope for working with the UN to start up food-for-work programmes. North Korea is inevitably a very vulnerable country because it does not produce sufficient food for its own population even in so-called good times. Of course, North Korea should be encouraged to accept the WFP’s offer of food. Perhaps the right to food could be reinforced also within various UN forums.

The international community also has a role to play, not only in continuing to offer food aid, but also in pressing North Korea to accept food assistance from the WFP. Perhaps the UK is well positioned to try to persuade the Chinese to allow the setting up of NGOs on the border between China and North Korea so that the inevitable mass movement of people—I do not think that it will be possible to prevent famine entirely—can be helped at the border, and to persuade the Chinese to stop arresting and deporting those who come across the border. To send back those people who have fled from North Korea in order to get sanctuary in China to, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has said, certainly torture and possibly death is reprehensible, to say the very least. Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this extremely important debate. Let us hope that we can pursue it in the months to come.

My Lords, in coming to your Lordships’ House just over a year ago from the other place, I have been amazed by the reservoir of wisdom and expertise apparent in every debate. Today’s debate is very much in that same frame. Some may argue that a debate on the nuclear test does not necessarily lead to a debate on human rights, but that I wholly reject. I applaud sections of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton—whom I congratulate on his initiative—and the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady D’Souza, on starvation and human rights violations. I am fortified in that view by the significant shift in South Korea’s position in the debate on human rights violations in North Korea at the UN General Assembly on 17 November, when for the first time, having absented itself or abstained in previous debates, it voted for the censure of North Korean human rights violations. It stated that it voted for the resolution because there was an even greater need to focus on the human rights situation in the DPRK following the nuclear test. There is that linkage in South Korea’s argument.

North Korea is clearly a dinosaur state. Perhaps, like Romania, it is an example of socialism in one family, but, unlike Romania, we know very little about the inner workings of the regime or what motivates it. In a discussion, the current UN Secretary-General, then the South Korean Foreign Minister, conceded to me that even the best North Korea watchers in South Korea knew very little about the inner core of the nomenclatura in North Korea. Another difference is the one that we are discussing today; namely, that North Korea has exploded a nuclear device and is a clear threat to international peace and security. Kim Jong-il, like Napoleon in Animal Farm, needs the constant external threat to maintain his grip on power. He blithely ignored a unanimous UN Security Council declaration two days before the 9 October test and the pleas of his closest ally, China. He seems therefore impervious to external pressure, although it is fair to say that he was probably deterred from a second test as a result of pressure from China.

Perhaps we should not have been surprised by the test. We know that in 1998 a missile was fired over Japan. North Korea renounced the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Last September, the purported agreement to give up nuclear activities was retracted the following day. In July 2006, seven missiles were fired from North Korea. That was followed by the UN sanctions. Why did they do it? The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked of desperation. Other noble Lords have talked about the need for respect, building on the precedent of Pakistan in 1998.

Interestingly, Iran—the only country to congratulate North Korea on its test—through its official television said that the reasons for the test were, first, the US failure to give security guarantees to North Korea, and, secondly, the US failure to deliver on its promise of a light-water reactor—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon—and nuclear fuel. Ominously, Iran warned that other countries might follow North Korea’s example.

North Korea may have miscalculated the extent of the international response to its test on 9 October. China, which had nurtured North Korea over 10 years or so, responded very vigorously. Just before the test, it warned of serious consequences. After the test, it said that North Korea had,

“ignored the widespread opposition of the international community”,

and that

“the Chinese Government is firmly opposed to this”,


“strongly demands that North Korea abides by its pledges”.

It is clear also that this was one of the factors leading to a rapprochement between Japan, the traditional enemy of North Korea, and China. The communiqué in the Chinese/Japanese summit which followed talked of the “deep concern” of those two countries. Perhaps we will note a turning point, partly as a result of this, in the relationship between Japan and China. Finally, the South Korean President said that it would be “difficult to maintain” his country’s policy of engagement with North Korea. I have mentioned the significant decision by South Korea to support that vote of censure in the UN General Assembly on 17 November.

What are the dangers? These have already been highlighted by other noble Lords. Obviously, it could encourage others on to the nuclear path in response, although it is fair to say that Japan’s response has been very positive. Equally, North Korea traditionally has been recognised as the arch proliferator in the world. It benefited from the A Q Khan network, helped Iran to assemble missiles and transferred technology to Syria. In June 1999, Indian customs agents impounded a North Korean freighter, which revealed the covert transfer to Libya of a virtually complete ballistic missile. Possibly the seizure under the Proliferation Security Initiative of that freighter en route to Libya in 2003 was part of a similar operation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, there appears to be evidence of a willingness on the part of North Korea to sell anything to anyone. When we know of the multiplicity of terrorist organisations desperate to obtain fissile material from whatever source, there is a clear danger of North Korea selling such material which could be turned into a dirty bomb.

What should be our response? It is said that it may be four to five years before North Korea is capable of turning the fissile material into warheads to be mounted on missiles, although of course they could drop bombs from aeroplanes. Japan says that North Korea lacks the relevant miniaturisation technology. Do the Government agree with that analysis and with the timetable? If it is four to five years, the question is how we use the intervening period most positively.

What, if any, are the points of leverage on North Korea? Immediately after the test, my noble friend Lord Triesman talked in this House about targeted sanctions. The record on sanctions—one thinks of South Africa—is not good. My noble friend talked of targeted sanctions on the overseas bank accounts of the elites in North Korea and on luxury goods. Clearly, there are limits to diplomacy. China is angry, although it had influence in postponing the second test. It supplies food and oil and is best placed to exert pressure, but it fears instability in the region. If North Korea were to collapse, there would be further refugee flows north and south and possibly even a unifying of the peninsula.

There is, however, one possible positive result with a new impetus to regional dialogue. It is said that at the economic meeting of Asian nations in Hanoi on 19 November there were significant discussions in the corridors about a new US diplomatic initiative, in particular, and that may also be fortified by the change in the Congress.

What, in the Government’s view, can realistically be put on the table? Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group said last November:

“Unfortunately, most of the cards are in the hands of the North Koreans at the moment … At the moment there are some carrots there, but they are not big enough and not juicy enough for the North Koreans to take a bite”.

So how does one make these carrots more juicy? In the Government’s view, what mileage could there be, for example, in initiatives on the de-nuclearisation of the peninsula? I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, raised the question of the bank in Macao. The US is concerned about the Banco Delta Asia in Macao because of alleged money-laundering of drug receipts by North Korea, which also uses the bank as a conduit for counterfeited US currency and so on. But surely, if there were good will, there would be a means of reaching an accord on that.

What about security guarantees? It can probably be argued that North Korea is not vulnerable and that it still has many thousands of artillery pieces which could rain on Seoul close to the border—if not the floods coming from dynamited dams, and so on. So almost certainly North Korea is not vulnerable, but what security guarantees can be given, particularly by the US and China? It has been asked why the US does not at least find a formula for more direct talks. That may come about as a result of the change in Administration.

Is North Korea at all interested in humanitarian assistance? The awful plight of the people has been mentioned. I can see that North Korea’s conduct in the past inspires little confidence in its word, so clearly there must be sticks as well as carrots.

I have two final reflections. First, one sadness in respect of human rights is that the country with the greatest influence on North Korea—China—is not a model of human rights. My second point concerns the dog that did not bark. Notable absentees from the six-power talks are the European Union and the United Kingdom, and that has led to some upset in Brussels. Do the Government share the concern that the UK and the EU appear to have no input into the dialogue? Clearly, the danger of fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists and the dangers of nuclear proliferation affect the interests of us all. Do the Government believe that the EU, and the UK as part of the EU, should be seen to have a greater influence in this highly volatile part of the world?

My Lords, this has been a very sober debate about a very difficult problem in a very difficult country, both in terms of the implications of the attempted nuclear test—whether it was successful, we are still not sure—and in terms of the wider implications for nuclear proliferation. There is also the much longer-term problem of what on Earth the rest of the world does about the current North Korean regime.

I say in passing to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that, if we were to obey the suggested rule that we should speak only about countries that we have visited, the position of a large number of people in this House would be extremely difficult. I think that my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, would be almost the only people to speak on many subjects. We struggle as hard as we can to keep up with the 192-plus countries in the world but it is not entirely easy.

This is an area in which the United Kingdom has marginal influence—it is only indirect influence through the United Nations and the European Union. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that even the European Union is a minor player, and necessarily so, given that the six-power talks bring together the neighbours who are most affected. I think that the European Union should play a much more active and supportive role in some areas. It should also have a clearer political strategy towards China as a whole. There, as in a number of other areas of EU external policy, life will be easier after May 2007, when President Chirac ceases to be someone who allegedly believes in common policy but actively disrupts it in relation to Russia, China and elsewhere. Our representatives in the UN Security Council are, and should be, working actively with others, but we know that action lies primarily with the direct neighbours.

I felt that one or two speakers did not stress as heavily as they should have done—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will come back to this—the immense difficulties in promoting dialogue with the current North Korean elite. It is a highly closed regime, and it is very obstructive not only towards NGOs but towards international agencies. When I spoke to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, who has recently visited North Korea—I am sorry that he is not able to be with us today—I was struck by how difficult he had found it to talk to people on any unauthorised basis when the regime did not wish him to do so. As the noble and gallant Lord has said, this is a criminal regime as well as a hard-line ideological one.

China’s role is absolutely key. I think we all accept that China is a very imperfect regime but it has strong interests in stabilising the region and, indeed, in global stability and global prosperity as a whole. So, in everything that we say to the Chinese, we should encourage active engagement in problems such as those posed by North Korea. We should also encourage its engagement in global institutions and towards other regions of the world—for example, Africa. Chinese fears of refugees and of destabilisation coming across the border into north-eastern China clearly give the Government very strong self-interests.

Similar comments could be made about Korea. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that my understanding is that the last thing that the South Korean Government want at the moment is unification. That is the lesson that they draw from the German experience. They are therefore anxious to encourage the gradual evolution of the North Korean regime without state collapse and certainly without having to pay the enormous costs of unification, which would necessarily be imposed on its direct neighbour.

Japan is another major player. When I was in Japan two weeks ago, I was struck by the enormous symbolic importance of the kidnapping issue there—they are still discovering what happened. After all, the new Japanese Prime Minister partly made his reputation by pursuing the kidnapping issue so far as concerned North Korea. Japan has its own established Korean minority, some of whom have been blackmailed by North Koreans because they still have relatives in North Korea. Japan also has complex and very delicate relations with that immensely difficult regime.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was a little kind to the Republican Administration in the United States. Inconsistencies in American policy, the refusal to talk, the disregard for local circumstances and regional expertise which the Republican Administration have shown in so many other areas have also been evident in their approach to North Korea. We may hope for a more positive approach from a now Democratic majority in Congress, but I suspect that we shall not get a very different tune from the White House or from the Administration until the change of presidency in two years’ time.

The current North Korean development is in some ways less serious as regards the breakdown of the whole anti-proliferation regime than an Iranian development would be. As noble Lords rightly said, there is a real fear that materials and technological expertise will be sold, and that justifies sanctions and inspections. I hope the Minister will answer some of the questions put by my noble friend Lady Williams on the fuel bank proposal and how far that may be the beginning of an answer to threats of collapse of the non-proliferation regime.

A number of noble Lords talked about the role of international agencies. Some time ago, some of us heard Masood Haider talk about the difficulties that UN agencies have within the North Korean regime. The regime regards easier contact with ordinary people—which comes from local inspection of how the food is being distributed—as extremely threatening. It is therefore resisted.

What carrots can we offer that will attract the current North Korean regime? Sanctions have to be part of what we do. If sanctions target the preferred lifestyle of that deeply corrupt and satisfied elite, they are highly desirable. The carrots have to be as much as we can do, recognising that they do not achieve very much at present. In supporting non-governmental organisations, we have to try to promote exchanges, dialogues and visits if we possibly can. That does not take us very far. I imagine that parliamentary exchanges with North Korea are not among the most enjoyable ways of spending a week or so, but it is necessary to attempt to establish a degree of closer contact while being conscious of just how slow and painful a process that may be.

We should certainly be prepared to talk about security guarantees, to deal with problems of status and to encourage the United States to think about giving the sort of status-symbolism which the re-establishment of direct representation would provide. We should certainly support actions by Korea, China and Japan, to which the nuclear test is a most direct threat.

I hope the Minister will say a little about how he sees European Governments as a whole approaching China and the region and what sort of political role, as opposed to economic role, he sees European Governments collectively playing in north-eastern Asia. There, as elsewhere, British interests lie in active multilateral co-operation through global and regional institutions as well as through bilateral relations. The most important multilateral institutions for the United Kingdom there, as elsewhere, are the United Nations and the European Union.

My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this important debate, in which we have been able to explore the international fall-out from North Korea’s explosion of a nuclear device last month. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out, the House has been treated to some very well informed speeches this afternoon.

In 2003, North Korea became the first country to pull out of the non-proliferation treaty. Diplomacy and limited engagement have been the primary tools used to deal with North Korea to date, but success has been limited. The International Crisis Group sums up the situation aptly. It highlights that:

“North Korea's precipitous internal situation compounds the international threat of a nuclear North Korea. Economic or political collapse would place a heavily militarised failed state on the border of China and South Korea. An outflow of millions of refugees into China would destabilise this important economic region and be met with sharp resistance. South Korea's fast developing but relatively weak economy is entirely unprepared for the huge costs of reconstruction and integration”.

The North Korean nuclear stand-off entered an even more troubling phase with Pyongyang's test of a nuclear device last month. I agree with many speakers this afternoon that North Korea's provocative act represents a clear threat to international peace and security, rather than contributing to the maintenance of peace, as the regime claims. North Korea's decision to undertake the test, regardless of the Security Council's warning, shows a total disregard for the UN and the will of the international community.

I congratulate the United Nations Security Council, which moved quickly to pass Resolution 1718 unanimously less than a week after the test. It goes to show what a united force the UN can, on occasion, be. I hope that the Minister, in light of reported differences in the interpretation of the UN resolution by the various countries involved—China, Russia and South Korea favouring more limited action while the US and Japan push for tougher enforcement—will inform the House that Her Majesty’s Government are pressing the Security Council to continue strong and decisive action thus paving the way for effective sanctions against the North Korean leadership.

Considering China's influence in the region, I welcome its expression of resolute opposition to these tests. I hope that this will continue to be the view in light of recent reports that all involved may be edging closer to the table once more. Can the Minister tell the House what discussions Her Majesty’s Government have held with Beijing on this issue and what is their assessment of the current fragile relationship between the six countries? Indeed, can he confirm the dates of the talks restarting in mid-December?

While talks offer a welcome glimmer of light, they do not signal the end of North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Indeed, some commentators suggest that now it has a nuclear deterrent, however feeble, North Korea feels it deserves more respect, a sentiment with which I do not agree. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that North Korea will not enter talks simply to buy time and to deflect international criticism? We must make certain that sanctions are rigorously enforced.

The six-party talks are a useful forum, but we must not ignore the fact that resolving the nuclear issue will also require committed bilateral negotiations that address in detail North Korea's security concerns and US demands for complete disarmament and intrusive verification. China's strong response may prove to be a major new factor pressing North Korea to offer more concessions in the talks, but only if the US is prepared to set the table with a far more specific and appetising menu than it has thus far. What discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with her American counterparts on whether the six-nation talks can act as an umbrella for exploring those issues further? The US needs to demonstrate that it is going the extra mile to offer North Korea a substantive and face-saving formula to reverse its decision to defy the international community. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Selsdon said, North Korea needs a carrot. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said that it must be a very juicy carrot.

My noble friend Lord Selsdon made the interesting point that many North Korean decision-makers are based in Germany. I look forward to the Minister’s comment on that. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made an interesting point about the South Koreans’ fear of reunification, based on the German experience.

Is the Minister confident that the coalition necessary to enforce sanctions, especially the provision on cargo inspections, is in place? Can we actually detect and stop any further supply of nuclear technology to this country; or, indeed, the onward proliferation to other nations? Considering the current strain our Armed Forces are under, will the Minister tell the House if our naval assets are to have a role in boarding and inspecting suspect vehicles?

The behaviour of North Korea—and Iran—over the past year demonstrates the need to shore up our resolve to retain our nuclear deterrent.

My Lords, I am pleased that we have had this opportunity today to discuss the concerns we all share about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and commend the continued interest shown by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool—particularly as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea—who has prompted this debate. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lord Anderson that the discussions this afternoon have again demonstrated the depth of expertise in this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, set out a central thesis on the importance of the three strands of security, humanitarian relief and human rights, and the importance of tackling them together. That is Her Majesty’s Government’s approach. A number of noble Lords have this afternoon made the point of the interlinks between the three. As the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, there is a danger, in taking action on one strand and not the others, of exacerbating the difficulties in those others. It is important that we take an integrated approach, as my noble friend Lord Anderson said.

The DPRK Foreign Ministry’s announcement that it had conducted an underground nuclear test on 9 October demonstrated a serious violation of North Korea’s obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement, as well as commitments undertaken in the US/North Korean agreed framework and the North-South Joint Declaration on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. In tests conducted by the United States and South Korea, both countries have found evidence of nuclear particles in the atmosphere. Given North Korea’s stated intention a week earlier to conduct a nuclear test, and the analysis conducted thus far, there is little doubt that it was indeed a small, though alarming, nuclear event. I listened carefully to the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, of its nuclear capability. I am unable to comment much further; suffice it to say, the international community is proceeding on that basis that that is what it was.

My noble friend Lord Anderson asked for our views on the timetable for development of North Korea’s nuclear capability. We have limited information to enable us to come up with a conclusion on a timetable, but what we have gives us significant concern.

We should avoid the trap described by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, of international disunity, in blaming developments in North Korea on US foreign policy. We must recognise that North Korea, as described this afternoon, has been pursuing a weapons programme since at least the 1990s. We must also recognise that, although there is no reason for us to suppose that North Korea would have adopted a different course if we had not taken action, for example, in Iraq, North Korea has consistently referred to the quality of their bilateral relations with the United States as a cause for their actions.

I was particularly taken by the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, about the importance of a sense of history, and the difference in perception of time in certain areas of Europe. This was brought home to me in discussing this debate with my wife last night, who reminded me of some of Korea’s history with its neighbours. It is important, as we try to engage with a regime with which it is difficult to do so, to keep that perspective, as the noble Baroness said.

Immediately following the test, therefore, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, issued statements making it clear that North Korea’s actions were both highly irresponsible and provocative, especially coming so soon after the July missile tests. The Foreign Secretary subsequently discussed the situation with Foreign Ministers, including those from China, Japan, the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the then South Korean Foreign Minister. Our Foreign Minister, Ian McCartney, also called the DPRK ambassador in London to the Foreign Office to make clear our views.

The world has been united in its condemnation of North Korea’s action, which was carried out in direct defiance of the will of the international community. Comments made by world leaders, nuclear experts and international organisations have highlighted North Korea’s isolation. This issue has underlined the scale of the proliferation threat we face. The international community is working together to overcome this threat to peace and security.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked what the United Kingdom is doing about non-proliferation. We are clearly committed to our obligations under all current non-proliferation regimes, including the non-proliferation treaty, which are enforced by the United Nations Security Council. The unanimous adoption by the Security Council of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 on 14 October came as a swift and robust response to the test. Resulting sanctions include a ban on the export to North Korea of nuclear and ballistic missile goods and technologies, a ban on the export of arms to North Korea, a ban on technical assistance and advice related to all these items and a ban on the export by the DPRK of proliferation-sensitive goods. The sanctions also provide for the freezing of assets of individuals and entities supporting the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, and a travel ban on those individuals. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, it is important that these sanctions are effective.

The next step is therefore for all states to implement the provisions, and the UK is putting in place the necessary measures to ensure that the resolution is fully implemented. A number of noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, have asked whether this would include some form of naval blockade, a “ring of steel”. That is not really envisaged for several reasons. First, it is believed that global interception—rather than a local, geographic blockade—is the most effective way of implementing control over the trafficking in such goods. Secondly, it is believed that the existing international provisions giving nations the right to intervene in the trafficking of such goods, depending upon the location—whether in international waters or ports—are sufficient to enable the necessary actions to take place.

A number of noble Lords have asked about the EU position. EU partners adopted a common position for the implementation of UNSCR 1718 at the 20 November Agriculture and Fisheries Council, because that was an appropriate venue for this to take place. The UK is working with EU partners on an accompanying EC regulation, which will ensure consistent implementation by member states. This is also necessary for full UK implementation of certain measures.

All permanent members of the Security Council have now submitted reports, setting out the actions they are taking to implement the resolution effectively, to the Sanctions Committee, which was created to monitor the implementation of this resolution. We are currently discussing bilaterally with key partners, including Russia, China and the Republic of Korea on how implementation can be fully achieved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, specifically asked me about Japan and highlighted concerns regarding Japan’s position on nuclear weapons. I stress this afternoon that Japan maintains a three-point non-nuclear policy that prevents it possessing and producing nuclear weapons as well as allowing such arms to be brought into its territory. Recently, on 8 and 9 November, the Prime Minister of Japan reiterated that Japan will stick to its three non-nuclear principles and confirmed that this is the consensus in the Japanese Administration.

The return of the DPRK to the six-party talks, which it abandoned last year, represents a significant step forward. This followed talks between the United States, China and North Korea held in Beijing on 31 October. Both the US and China have said that they want to see real results from the next round of talks. I agree with the noble Baroness when she highlighted the very constructive role of China in this area. These talks provide a valuable opportunity to seek reaffirmation by the DPRK of its commitments under the September 2005 joint statement at the conclusion of the fourth round of the six party talks. We need to see the DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards. Although no firm date has been set for the resumption of the talks, it seems likely that they will reconvene in December.

Agreement by the DPRK to resume the six-party talks is indeed very welcome. It suggests that our policy towards it is working. The international community’s approach of standing firm following the nuclear test has clearly demonstrated that we are all united in the implementation of that policy. But there is still much more to be done. Sanctions must remain in force until the DPRK complies fully.

As a number of speakers this afternoon have highlighted, there is an absolute link between these security issues and human rights. The North Korean Government have made it clear that they regard human rights as subordinate to national security. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, clearly, and in harrowing fashion, described the nature of what goes on in North Korea as regards human rights. This country probably has one of the worse human rights records in the world. Details of serious and widespread abuses have been highlighted in past reports, particularly by the UN special rapporteur on human rights, Professor Muntarbhorn. These reports make chilling reading indeed. Recently, in a meeting at the other place, Professor Muntarbhorn presented his statement in a discussion which was led by the invitation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Ian McCartney. We need to note that while the DPRK’s constitution provides for freedoms and liberties for all its citizens, in practice, that is not the case.

Most recently, the European Union sent out a very strong message condemning North Korea’s human rights record when the UN General Assembly third committee adopted its resolution on 17 November. The resolution was strongly supported, with 91 votes in favour, 21 against and 60 abstentions. Not surprisingly, the resolution met strong verbal disapproval from North Korea. Until North Korea responds positively to international concerns, the UK will continue to work with EU partners and others to maintain and increase pressure in the appropriate international forum.

Despite our strong condemnation of North Korea’s poor human rights record, we have demonstrated our determination to engage with the regime, as several noble Lords have pressed us to do in this debate. For that reason, we have maintained our embassy in Pyongyang since 2001. Despite the very difficult circumstances in which our staff operate they have regularly and frankly imparted our concerns about nuclear proliferation and human rights to senior DPRK officials.

On the humanitarian situation, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said, famine is a man-made disaster. Since the famine of the late 1990s, the international community has provided extensive food aid to the DPRK—at one point feeding perhaps one-third of the country’s population. But in August 2005 the Government claimed that, after receiving humanitarian assistance for 10 years, aid was no longer required. UN and aid agencies did not share that view, but the World Food Programme was obliged by the North Korean Government to in effect shut down most of its operations.

In response to North Korea’s announcement on humanitarian aid, we in the UK had to suspend further funding. We stand ready to resume humanitarian assistance if and when the DPRK Government are willing to accept it and conditions allow for sufficient monitoring of programmes to ensure effectiveness and accountability. Earlier this year, the World Food Programme resumed its programmes on a much reduced scale.

I have been asked to give some detail on the latest situation. According to the World Food Programme’s estimates, there will be a food production shortfall of a minimum of 800,000 tonnes in North Korea this year. North Korea relies primarily on imports from China and South Korea to bridge this gap. South Korea ceased humanitarian shipments following the DPRK's testing of missiles in July. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, starving this country into submission is not the right approach. UK policy is never to use humanitarian assistance for political leverage. We have encouraged South Korea to move away from this idea and to revert to other methods of leverage, for example, over economic assistance.

But we have to recognise that the position of both China and South Korea in providing humanitarian aid to North Korea differs from that of the rest of the international community. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly highlighted, as the DPRK’s direct neighbours, its key objective is to take steps to maintain stability within that country. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, indicated, the regime were to collapse suddenly, China and South Korea would run the risk of being inundated with North Korean refugees. Neither country would be able to support such an influx.

The UK believes that the World Food Programme is the appropriate agency to distribute and monitor food aid received by the DPRK. We would prefer to focus our attention on non-food needs. I am happy to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that we and other donor Governments regularly urge the DPRK authorities to accept humanitarian aid and to, at the very least, allow the previous levels of access for agencies and NGOs. It is, indeed, a key focus for us.

The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, provided an important perspective on the contribution that trade can make in difficult circumstances such as these. He mentioned his personal experience in visiting the area. I, too, in a previous life in the biotechnology industry saw for myself the real skills and know-how that exists in South Korea, the real ability of its people and their impressive scientific prowess. It shows the potential of the region to develop properly. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to explore fully the opportunities to use trade, consistent with the policies which I have described elsewhere, to open up dialogue, recognising the difficulties of doing this with this very difficult regime.

However, we need to recognise that we have made clear to the North Korean Government that we cannot extend the benefits of a full and normal bilateral relationship until they have shown that they are addressing our concerns on those and other issues—in particular, their nuclear programmes and their ballistic missile capability. Until the DPRK responds to international concerns, the UK will work with EU partners and others to maintain and increase pressure in the appropriate international bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, rightly highlighted the practical difficulties of dialogue with that country. Despite that, we have to do everything that we can because of the importance not just for security but the terrible things that are taking place in the damage done to the North Korean people and the human rights record of that country. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked if we are using all efforts to press bilaterally and within the United Nations and the EU to do that. Yes, we are.

It should be obvious to the regime of the DPRK that it has nothing to gain from a nuclear weapons programme and a great deal to lose. We hope that it will step back from that misguided path and devote its energies to restoring life to a shattered economy and hope to a despairing population.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I ask him to respond to a point made by me and my noble friend Lord Alton—what my noble friend Lord Alton described as Helsinki with an Asian face and which I went into in rather greater depth—about the possibility of some sub-regional or regional organisation that would emerge from the six-party talks. That would have the advantage of dealing with both security issues with people-to-people contacts and economic development in a way that would balance in future and, perhaps, move all the issues forward. Would the Government be prepared to consider that and think carefully whether they could canvas that idea with some of their partners and allies?

My Lords, I am happy to give the noble Lord that assurance. Listening to the debate this afternoon, I was struck by the consensus across the House on the need to manage those strands as an integrated whole and the important difference in approach of those nations local to the area, which would need to be considered, as well as those from the global perspective. I will therefore take back to my colleagues the point made about Helsinki with an Asian face and ask them to consider responding directly to the noble Lord on that point.

My Lords, further to that question, will the Minister also say whether he is prepared further to consider the discussions of the provision from a fuel bank of LEU rather than HEU to countries that need, or decide that they want, a civil nuclear programme? Can he say anything about the Government's attitude to the idea of a cut-off for the creation of fissionable material?

My Lords, I commit to write to the noble Baroness to give her full data on our position on the fuel bank. It is a complex but potentially important initiative and I will write to her about it.

My Lords, this has been a characteristically well informed debate and a timely one. I agree with the Minister when he said that there has been widespread agreement from all parts of your Lordships' House about the importance of holding together the three strands of humanitarian concerns, human rights and security questions.

Among the recurring themes expressed by many have been the desirability of critical but constructive engagement with North Korea—albeit, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, that it will be a slow and painful process. Other noble Lords have cited the centrality of China’s role and the dangers of proliferation to China, the Republic of Korea and Japan. Reference has been made to the danger to the world if non-proliferation measures are left in tatters if we do not get this question right and act effectively.

We have reiterated our commitment to a denuclearised peninsula and the prevention of seepage to terrorist organisations and states that might misuse nuclear materials. We debated the nature of the regime and its dangerous depredations; the need to hold together those three strands; and the importance of viewing the crisis from the perspective of North Korea as well as our own. There have been warnings about coming famine. One noble Lord said that to use food as a weapon of war would be a very dangerous gamble. I was especially pleased to hear what the Minister said in reply to that point.

As I said earlier, in 2003, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I were at Panmunjom on the 38th parallel, where the ceasefire was signed in 1953. When we were there, we wrote in the visitors’ book that it is better to build bridges than to build walls. Walls have surrounded North Korea for the past 55 years. It takes more creativity and intelligence to build bridges, but I believe that all of your Lordships are committed to that process. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate today and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.