CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE – NUCLEAR SAFEGUARDS – 10 April 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: Does my right hon. Friend's [Eric Forth's] memory take him back to previous arms control treaties? There was once something called the seabed treaty, which provided that it was all right to have nuclear submarines patrolling the depths but not to install nuclear weapons on the seabed. Was not that truly likened to an agreement not to screw aircraft to the ground? In that sense, is not the Bill part of a long and honourable tradition?

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Dr Lewis: I eagerly anticipate the later stages of my right hon. Friend's [Eric Forth's] disquisition. While accepting my right hon. Friend's concerns about the academic freedoms of our universities being impinged upon, does he recognise that there might be a problem in dealing with non-democracies which sign the protocol? Is there not a danger that they would set up bogus educational institutions as covers to manufacture weapons of mass destruction that would be secure from inspection? Is that why the Government feel that they must go as far as they are, despite my right hon. Friend's concerns?

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Dr Lewis: Has my right hon. Friend [Eric Forth] considered the implications of such visas being made available for a period of as long as a year at a time? Even if nothing untoward were done in the course of the inspection visits themselves, undesirable people such as senior intelligence officers would have the facility to come and go at other times apart from when they were doing their job and inspecting the nuclear facilities.

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Dr Lewis: I was surprised when my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) said that the courts would decide the matter. Does that mean that our domestic courts could decide whether an international treaty should take precedence when a matter of secrecy is the alleged excuse for non-compliance? What about the courts in other signatory countries that are not independent of their Governments? I hope that my right hon. Friend [Eric Forth] will press the Minister [Dr Kim Howells] on that.

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Dr Lewis: Perhaps I can enlighten my right hon. Friend [Eric Forth]. I think that he has just put his finger on a reason for one of the apparent anomalies that he identified earlier – the need to give notification in advance that an inspection is to be made. It would then be held to be unreasonable if the granting of access were not forthcoming. I thought that my right hon. Friend was going to say that the provision gives no indication as to how the inspector will know whether any such electronically held information exists. Surely the inspector will simply be relying on the candour and good will of the person who has squirrelled away the information in cyberspace.

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Dr Lewis: Does my right hon. Friend [Eric Forth] see a possibility of conflict if one of the inspectors, allowed in on a year-long visa, is found to be doing something improper when he is not inspecting, and the Government wish to expel him, as we normally do when unacceptable espionage is carried out? Difficulties could arise if it were claimed that, according to the protocol, his visa could not be withdrawn.

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Dr Lewis: Is not the answer contained in the clause, where it says: "If in any proceedings any question arises?" Surely that presupposes that the certificate will be called for only if there has been a challenge to the credentials of an inspector, which would delay and undermine the efficacy of the inspection.

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Dr Lewis: I apologise for having missed the early stages of this debate, but I am disturbed to hear that the Bill has been attempted systematically over two years or so. We have been told that the UK would be one of relatively few signatories to the additional protocol, which suggests that the Government were once anxious that we should sign it before virtually anyone else.

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Dr Lewis: Does my hon. Friend [David Wilshire] see a parallel between that point and permanent membership of the UN Security Council? In effect, international treaties – like international organisations – have to take the facts of the military situation into account. The NPT regime was constructed in the light of the fact that those five countries have nuclear weapons. The idea is to take that salient fact into account while building up a regime that will have some effect.

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Dr Lewis: I hesitate to correct my hon. Friend [David Wilshire], but could he be a little more careful and not equate the concept of world peace with that of world disarmament? Often the one is not served by the other.

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Dr Lewis: Does my hon. Friend [David Wilshire] realise that his remarks are supported by the fact that in 1992 we had the revelation that the biological weapons convention, which was concluded in 1972, shortly after the NPT, was systematically flouted by the Soviet Union, as it then was? While western democracies disarmed in accordance with the convention's provisions, the Soviet Union exploited their disarmament by redoubling its efforts to acquire lethal systems.

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Dr Lewis: Is there not a further difficulty? Whereas the civil operators in this country have no intention, one hopes, of trying surreptitiously to flout the provisions of the non-proliferation treaty, they are not best placed to judge whether the Bill will close the loopholes that could be exploited by operators in other countries who would be minded to try and dodge the provisions of the NPT.

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Dr Lewis: Far from being able to answer the question, I want to ask my hon. Friend [David Wilshire] another one. Is it not curious that so many countries, after such an amount of time, have not yet signed up to the protocol? I wonder what is holding them back.

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Dr Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman [Harry Cohen] for his usual courtesy in giving way. Will he explain to the House how this provision would take effect in countries that are not democracies? If a misleading statement were made to one of the inspectors in Iraq or in some other such undemocratic country, what sanction would be imposed against that country?