Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 7:31 pm on 6th November 1997.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 7:33 pm, 6th November 1997

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The Bill will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty which bans any nuclear weapon test explosion and any other nuclear explosion. The United Kingdom is one of the states whose ratification is a precondition for the treaty's entry into force.

The contents of the Bill are, for the most part, highly technical, but that should not be allowed to obscure its much wider political significance. In simple terms, the Bill is about taking the next step—and a significant one, at that—towards the Government's goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Government are serious about that goal. We are committed to pressing for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. We have made it clear that, when we are satisfied with progress towards our goal of global elimination, we shall ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in multilateral negotiations.

We intend to make a difference in this area, as in so many areas of Government policy. We can make a difference, and we intend to do so. Our approach to multilateral disarmament will not be grudging and it will not be one that plays up the obstacles to progress in order to leave things as they are. We intend to be a constructive actor in the process, using our influence to move things forward where we can.

We also approach the matter in a practical fashion. We know that progress towards our goal requires the agreement of the other nuclear weapons states, including some with massively larger holdings than ours. Progress will also depend on the co-operation of the many other states that have no declared nuclear capacity. Let us be clear, however, that we have the vision and will to reach our goal and the commitment to build support for the steps that will mark the way. We shall look for progress simultaneously in a range of areas—transparency, confidence building and a fissile material cut-off treaty—as well as seeking to build on the warhead reductions already achieved. The Bill demonstrates the magnitude of the task, but it also underlines the fact that political will brings results. This Government will never concede that the task is hopeless.

The comprehensive test ban treaty is the culmination of almost 40 years of effort involving painstaking negotiations. When the parties to the non-proliferation treaty agreed a set of principles and objectives in 1995, they described a comprehensive test ban treaty as the next step on the road to nuclear disarmament. We are fully committed to the goals set out in those principles and objectives, and we welcome the CTBT now agreed accordingly. As its preamble makes clear, the treaty will constrain the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons, and end the development of advanced new types. That is truly an important step forward.

The United Kingdom signed the treaty on 24 September 1996. Some 147 other states have now signed the treaty and seven have ratified it. It will come into force six months after the 44 states named in its annexe have ratified it. Those states all took part in the negotiations on the treaty in the conference on disarmament in 1996 and are listed by the International Atomic Energy Authority as having a civil nuclear capability. The United Kingdom is one of those states, 41 of which have already signed.

North Korea, Pakistan and India still have not signed. We are doing what we can, both unilaterally and in concert with others, to encourage all three states to sign and ratify the treaty quickly. A question mark, however, must remain over their commitment to the eventual goal of global nuclear disarmament if they stand in the way of the necessary interim steps.

We are making swift progress with the legislation needed to ratify the treaty. Indeed, when the Bill was introduced in another place, it passed through unamended. We hope to be the first nuclear weapons state to ratify; that will be a further demonstration of our commitment to the treaty, to nuclear disarmament and to non-proliferation.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Will the Minister take this opportunity to praise the former Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, who played such an important part in getting the treaty signed in 1996, as the Minister mentioned earlier?

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I have no difficulty in paying tribute to those who took part in a step which I have described as significant. It would be churlish to say that those who played a part did not contribute to taking events forward.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take my next words in the spirit in which they are intended. The world has to do a lot more and we shall look for his support when we begin to push the agenda forward in the weeks and months to come. The real battle concerns where we go next. The Bill has already completed its passage of the other place unamended, and I am sure that we shall see the same co-operation in this House.

The treaty establishes a number of new international bodies to ensure that its provisions are properly observed. A comprehensive test ban treaty organisation will be set up in Vienna once the treaty enters into force. It will work closely with the International Atomic Energy Authority and other relevant organisations.

Part of the treaty organisation will be a technical secretariat, which will be responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of the treaty. To that end, the treaty will set up an international monitoring system, which will consist of a worldwide network of monitoring stations. A number of those are in the United Kingdom and dependent territories.

The stations will use various technologies to detect, identify and locate the source of a suspicious event anywhere in the world. The data from the stations will be transmitted to an international data centre, which will be part of the technical secretariat in Vienna. The international data centre will then make the information available to state parties. Meanwhile, until entry into force, a preparatory commission is working in Vienna to develop the many detailed arrangements for implementation of the treaty, including the establishment of the international monitoring system. The verification regime in the treaty provides for consultation and clarification in cases of indications of possible non-compliance. If necessary, and if a certain proportion of state parties agree, an on-site inspection can start within 96 hours of it being requested. The inspections will be carried out by trained inspectors chosen from an agreed international list of experts, who will report back to the technical secretariat and state parties.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

On verification, how concerned are the Government about the fact that there appear to have been explosions in, for example, the Russian arctic, which it appears seismic technology has not been capable of verifying as definite nuclear explosions? Is not verification the crucial issue? After all, we had only a partial nuclear test ban treaty—a treaty covering only atmospheric explosions—because it was impossible for many decades to check what was going on underground. If explosions are taking place which have not been correctly verified, a large part of the rationale for the treaty could be undermined.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observation. It is, however, our view that the events in the Russian arctic were much more likely to have been caused by an earthquake. Britain has significant relative expertise in seismic areas, and it was certainly the view of our experts that that was the most likely course of events. The advantage of a CTBT coming into operation is that it will provide a challenge mechanism—an opportunity where there are doubts about the credibility and good faith of the parties to the treaty—that will enable an inspection to be set up and conducted very quickly. The treaty will enable us to do a lot more than we are able to under the present system. It both advances the need for science, in which countries such as Britain have expertise, and provides an opportunity for us to pursue matters beyond simple scientific measuring from a distance, by enabling us to look actively at what happens on site. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

Will the Minister say something about sub-critical explosions and the concern that tests of very small weapons—mini neutron bombs and the like—which may find themselves excluded from the treaty de facto, could occur because it is difficult to know whether they have taken place? Will the Minister give a view on those problems?

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman is right; sub-critical tests are not prohibited by the treaty. It is necessary, in order to maintain not only the viability but the safety of existing nuclear weapons systems, that sub-critical tests are part of the opportunities available to all nuclear weapon states. Rather than seeing the issue as potentially threatening, I suggest that it is the opposite. It is a necessary safeguard for the whole world that nuclear weapon states maintain the opportunity to take advantage of sub-critical tests. I hope that that reassurance will be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. The issues are important.

The United Kingdom has for many years had a national research programme into the means of detecting and verifying nuclear explosions. The programme enabled the United Kingdom to play a major role in the negotiations on how best to verify the treaty. We aim to retain a national capability to allow us to reach an independent judgment on the data produced by the international monitoring system. That will strengthen our ability to justify a request for an on-site inspection of exactly the kind that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and I have been discussing.

With the advent of the treaty, the implications of any changes or deterioration in our Trident warheads will have to be assessed without nuclear testing. Similarly, after any corrective action or refurbishment, we will have to requalify warheads as safe and reliable without nuclear testing. Those requirements will place great demands on the alternatives to nuclear testing. I can tell the hon. Member for Chichester that we intend to use experiments and computer simulation for that purpose. Both are consistent with the terms of the treaty. I hope that the House will accept that that is agreed by all parties to the treaty, not just by the nuclear weapons states.

The treaty requires each state party to establish a national authority to act as the point of contact with the treaty organisation and to be the focal point for the operation of the treaty on its territory. In the UK, the national authority will be set up in the Ministry of Defence.

Although notes on clauses will be available in the Library, I shall turn briefly to the Bill's provisions. As its title suggests, its provisions fall into two broad categories: those relating to the prohibition of nuclear explosions and those enabling inspections to be carried out in the UK under the terms of the treaty.

Clauses 1 and 2 make it an offence, punishable by life imprisonment, to cause a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, other than a nuclear weapon explosion carried out in the course of an armed conflict. The offence can be committed in the United Kingdom by anyone. Abroad, the offence can be committed by UK nationals and corporations.

Clauses 4 to 9 cover various aspects of inspections in the UK, such as their formal authorisation by the Secretary of State and the necessary privileges and immunities for the inspection teams. Clause 10 covers the issue of warrants authorising entry and search of premises if offences are suspected. Clauses 11 to 15 contain various technical provisions, and also provide for the Act to bind the Crown.

As I said at the outset, although the Bill is essentially technical, it nevertheless has a significance way beyond that narrow technical remit. It is a genuine pleasure to hold my office at a time when such a significant step on the way to our undoubted goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons is being taken. In passing the measure, the House will be playing its part in that process. The Government's commitment is that, once we have taken this step, we will return with determination to the task of carrying the agenda forward.

Photo of Mr David Faber Mr David Faber Conservative, Westbury 7:46 pm, 6th November 1997

I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill before the House and echo his warm words of support for the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. The Opposition welcome the Bill. As he said, it received a fair wind in another place. We recognise that it provides the legislation necessary to ratify the treaty. He has given us a very full and detailed technical explanation of the Bill's contents, for which I am grateful. Like the Government, the Opposition believe that the world will ultimately be a safer place through the signing of the treaty. The signing of the treaty and discussion of the Bill show that the international community can, by acting with determination, while making sacrifices, reap the benefits at the end of the cold war and the desire for a reduction in the nuclear arsenals of all countries throughout the world.

The former Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said on the very day that he signed the treaty in New York on 24 September last year: It is our firm conviction that this treaty is in the interests of all, and I urge all states to give it their full support. The full support of all states is, of course, crucial to the success of the treaty.

As the Minister rightly said, the signing of the treaty has come after a long process—many decades—of negotiation. Since 1989 particularly, we have seen profound and significant changes throughout Europe. More people than ever now live in democratic societies. The spread of democracy has made war less likely and the curtailment of the arms race ultimately more achievable.

Threats to our society remain, however, and it is only right that we, as a country and as part of the international community, should recognise and be alert to them. The Opposition remain absolutely committed to our nuclear deterrent and to keeping it fully serviced and updated to counter any potential threat we might face.

It is a shame that the Minister of State did not take the opportunity to reassert the Government's—and his personal—support for the retention and upgrading of the nuclear deterrent, given that he and many of his colleagues have called for the cancellation of the Trident programme in the past.

As Baroness Symons pointed out on Second Reading in another place, the implications of the treaty are profound, and the Minister of State rightly reminded us of that. Any deterioration in the Trident warheads will have to be assessed without recourse to nuclear testing. Such requirements will undoubtedly place an ever greater demand on the computer simulation techniques that provide an alternative and on the shared information and technology that we pool with our allies. However, I know that all hon. Members will agree that that is preferable, and that the treaty must succeed in its ultimate aim to do away for ever with nuclear testing, of whatever sort, and thus lead to a steady reduction in the world's nuclear arsenal.

The Minister of State was helpful in his explanation of the mechanisms in the Bill and the organisations that will flow from it for the monitoring and inspection of nuclear weapons, and he answered questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). However, he skirted quickly over the issue of ratification. He said that, to date, 147 countries had signed the treaty. According to the Library, 148 countries have signed the treaty, but perhaps the Library has added a country. Of those 147, only seven have so far ratified the treaty and, of the 44 required to sign to bring the treaty into force, I understand that only Japan has ratified it.

I do not suggest that the vast majority of states have anything other than an intention to ratify the treaty, and it is accepted under international law that a moratorium comes into effect once the process of ratification has begun. Both France and China have now agreed to abide by that understanding. However, problems exist in other countries. The Minister of State mentioned three in particular and I shall turn to those in a moment.

The most important country involved is the United States. Does the Minister of State have any information from his American counterparts about when ratification will take place there? President Clinton recently told the United Nations Assembly that the treaty would be presented to the Senate shortly, but some in American political circles are concerned about several aspects of the treaty, including compliance verification and the safety and reliability of their nuclear arsenal. Clearly, it is important that the rest of the world see that the one remaining super-power takes a strong lead, and I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will encourage American ratification as soon as possible. It is important that we, as another major nuclear power, set a good example, and I assume that the United Kingdom will ratify the treaty as soon as possible after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

On the vexed question of the signature of the treaty by India and Pakistan, it is of primary importance that India signs the treaty, as it is likely that Pakistan would follow suit. On Second Reading in another place, Lord Jenkins of Putney called on the Minister to use Labour's long and, for the most part, friendly relationship with India to push for a resolution to the problem. At that stage, he could not predict the Foreign Secretary's disastrous visit to India this summer and the insensitivity that he showed to the Indian Government.

I was surprised that the Minister of State made no mention of the trip in his speech. Can he tell us anything about the discussions that the Foreign Secretary had with his Indian counterparts? Did he push for Indian ratification, and what response did he get? Baroness Symons referred to the sacrifices made by this country in signing the treaty and to the moral arguments that the Government would bring to bear on India. What were those arguments, were they forcefully made, and what response was received?

The most worrying case is that of North Korea. It is clear that, in spite of repeated warnings from the international community, North Korea continues to develop and improve its ballistic capability. Whether it yet possesses the technology to put nuclear warheads on those ballistic weapons, we do not know. However, we live in dangerous times. Economic deprivation is rife in North Korea, and the leadership is constantly looking for ways to deflect local attention from the domestic crisis. Anti-western rhetoric is usually the favourite course and we have all seen many examples of that.

When the former Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo, visited South Korea in January this year, he made clear the then Government's support for the United States policy in the region. The response in one of the North Korean newspapers was to condemn his bellicose utterances. It continued: Our people and army are keeping a close eye on the British military whipping up war fever in the Korean peninsula.

I understand that the Minister and some of his colleagues may have a problem, because in the past many of them have held strong views on Korea. Indeed, the Minister has gone so far as to describe American troops in South Korea as a major obstacle to peace talks and to call for their withdrawal. Can he tell us about the Government's view of the continuing tension in that country and how it might be persuaded to sign the test ban treaty? Is it now the policy of the Government to stand four square alongside our United States allies in that region?

On Second Reading in another place, Lord Moynihan referred to the real problems that the world faces as a result of the possible proliferation of rogue states. Some such states seem positively to revel in their status as the bad boys of the world. While the specific strategic threat to Europe from a communist Soviet Union may have evaporated, we are only too aware of—and frequently debate—the many localised flashpoints around the world.

The procurement of nuclear weapons by several states could quickly turn localised problems into very real concerns for the international community. Both Iran and Libya appear to be working hard to develop their nuclear capacity and to acquire the technology. In Iraq, the situation is very tense, and it is worrying to suppose that the reason why the Iraqi authorities have suddenly cut access for United Nations inspectors is because they have been close to discovering evidence of a nuclear programme. What are the Government's current views on the stand-off in Iraq? Can the Minister confirm that we also stand four square alongside our United States allies on that issue?

No less a figure than the Foreign Secretary himself once criticised the bombing of Baghdad during the Gulf war because it would make it more difficult to achieve peace and security. I hope that that is no longer his view, because those sentiments now seem out of place and old-fashioned. I hope that we are maintaining good relations with the United States and doing all that we can to support the United Nations inspection regime in Iraq.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield reminded us, the Conservatives are proud of the role played by the previous Government in bringing the treaty to fruition. We will do all we can to support the Government in pushing for ratification by all the states. I look forward to ratification by this country as soon as possible and to the Government playing an enthusiastic role in persuading others to do likewise. Once that is achieved, the treaty can begin to fulfil its vital role.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 7:57 pm, 6th November 1997

It is a pleasure to speak on this important Bill and to welcome whole-heartedly its speedy introduction by the Government. I hope that it makes fast progress through the House, because it is an historic Bill and will achieve a result that we have desired for a long time. It is surprising that, after the sound and fury of the preceding debate, in which many Conservative Members felt prompted to participate, the Opposition Benches are much emptier for proceedings on this Bill, which is of much more significance than the privileges of lawyers.

The comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty is an important stepping stone to what I am sure everyone wants to see—the eventual multilateral elimination of nuclear weapons. I hope that ratification will take place at the earliest possible opportunity. However, as the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) has suggested, there are problems with ratification. It is no fault of the Government—or even of the previous Government's negotiations—that the ratification process will be so rigidly applied that it will be difficult to ensure that the worldwide ban comes into effect at the earliest opportunity.

The hon. Member for Westbury referred to the three states that are refusing to sign, or have said that they are not prepared to do so at the moment. The situation in India and Pakistan is different from that in North Korea. We should—perhaps we do—have some influence with the Governments of India and Pakistan. The Foreign Secretary, in what we are told was a thoroughly successful trip to the Indian sub-continent, may have had discussions on that points, and I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether that is the case. Those countries are also members of the Commonwealth, and if that is to mean anything, it surely means that we can apply influence on a matter of such great importance.

There is also a problem with the United States, where a two-thirds majority is needed to achieve ratification. The chairman of the Senate's foreign affairs committee may have a different view from some Senators on this. Are there measures that the Government can take to reassure our American allies and allay doubts in the American legislature?

Baroness Symons said in another place on 24 July that the British Government would do all they could to encourage the signing and ratification by all states. I should be interested to know what progress has been made towards that objective and what action the Government have taken to engage the attention of allies around the world and encourage them towards signature and ratification.

There are also problems for Britain in the application of the treaty. Only America has the computer technology available to simulate testing and ensure proper maintenance. It is an interesting reflection on Britain's independent deterrent that the only way we can test it is to go to America. Therefore, America has complete control over our deterrent.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that much of the software used by the United States for computer simulation was developed in the United Kingdom by UK engineers?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am aware of that, but it is under the control of the United States. Does Britain have the technology to provide a British alternative to testing and simulation in this country so that we do not have to subscribe to an American hegemony? How else are we to know whether the warheads on the British deterrent are safe and functional? That is a matter of importance if Britain is to have confidence in the process.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester

I think that I am right in saying that our nuclear weapons would be targeted from Omaha and, to all intents and purposes, co-operation would be required with the Americans for our missiles to be successfully launched and delivered to their target. In those circumstances, the idea of total independence is a fiction.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes precisely the point that I was seeking to make.

Is there no scope within the treaty for a commitment not to work on qualitative improvements to nuclear technology, and should not the British Government pursue that as a further objective? It is absent from the treaty, but it is likely to undermine the confidence of non-nuclear powers if they are aware of further improvements in nuclear weapons technology made by the nuclear powers, yet outwith the terms of the treaty.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) made a good point about sub-critical testing, and the Minister's response was a little sanguine. However necessary sub-critical testing may seem to a Government undertaking it, it none the less undermines confidence in the process of non-proliferation and de-escalation of nuclear weapons. The Government have a role in urging their allies not to engage in actions that would undermine that process.

There may well be a legal requirement in the treaty. The hon. Member for Westbury referred to article 18 of the Vienna convention on the law of treaties. That clearly lays a responsibility on other countries, following their signature on a treaty, not to do anything that would undermine the spirit of that treaty while awaiting its entry into force. I must ask whether American sub-critical testing does or does not do that. I must ask whether the underground tremor in the Russian arctic does that. The Minister was happy to ascribe that tremor to a seismic disturbance; I am not sure that everyone would do that, and certainly we do not have the technology to be sure. It is clear to me that all signatories must refrain from any behaviour that undermines the treaty as a whole.

Are we confident that we have the verification methods available to be sure that the treaty is being complied with? Is the sensor network sufficiently sophisticated? Does it have a sufficiently wide geographical spread? Is the international monitoring sufficiently robust to provide reassurance, as that is critical to the process?

There are further moves that the British Government could make. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North—East Fife (Mr. Campbell) referred to some of those during the defence debate this week, and it would be otiose of me to repeat them. I hope that the Government, having taken the welcome step of introducing the Bill at an early stage, will apply all their energies to diplomatic initiatives to take the measure one stage further.

It is not good enough for our Government to stay silent when these matters are discussed. They must take the initiative so that we can move on to serious talks on strategic arms reduction. We could show an example by ensuring that the number of warheads on Trident is no less and no more than those on Polaris, which it replaces. That would show that we were prepared to take the initiative in moving global nuclear disarmament forward. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on those points, but meanwhile I repeat that the Liberal Democrats will give him every support to ensure the swift passage of the Bill through the House.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield 8:06 pm, 6th November 1997

Nobody who lived through the Cuban missile crisis could do anything other than welcome the Bill, and we hope that the comprehensive test ban treaty will soon be ratified. I recall when I was at school that an air-raid siren was placed on top of the building at the time of the Cuban crisis. There was a real fear among children in their early teens, as I was at the time. I hope that we never witness anything like that again.

During an intervention on the Minister, I talked about the role of the previous Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, but he was not just there to take part in discussions. A briefing prepared by the international affairs and defence section of the Library says: At the end of May 1996 the Conference chairman, Ambassador Ramaker of the Netherlands, proposed a solution based on a British idea. The British idea emanated from the Foreign Office, which at the time was under the leadership of Malcolm Rifkind. Britain's idea was that all eight countries with nuclear weapons, as well as those "threshold nations" on the brink of having them—they may already have them— would have to ratify before entry into force, but they would not be singled out as such.

We must not forget the history since the Cuban crisis. Before I entered the House of Commons, I paid regular visits to the former Soviet Union. It was apparent that the citizens of the Soviet Union had no desire to witness or to take part in any nuclear war, as they well remembered that 24 million Russians died in the second world war. We should not, however, forget that in those days the Soviet Government were not answerable to the people of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union brought SS20 missiles into Czechoslovakia as it was then known, the German so-called Democratic Republic and Poland to threaten western Europe, many Labour Members who were members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the time, opposed the western and British Governments' reaction, the deployment of Cruise missiles.

It is a sad truth, but the doctrine of MAD—mutual assured destruction—kept the peace. Because there was nuclear balance, there was no nuclear war. We all hope that there will come a time when there are no more nuclear weapons in the world, but, as long as there are, there has to be such a balance. This treaty, when ratified by all the countries, will ensure that the balance will be maintained and that eventually there will he no more nuclear weapons.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 8:10 pm, 6th November 1997

Obviously, I welcome the fact that the official Opposition are completely behind the Government in pushing the Bill through the House, as are the Liberal Democrats. It is an important Bill and I think that the whole House accepts that. Some of the welcome was perhaps less whole-hearted than it might have been under the circumstances.

I shall try to deal with a number of the issues of substance that were raised. Clearly, ratification is an important issue. There can be no doubt about that. I do not think that there is an argument that the treaty, as structured, went about the process of ratification sensibly. In the end, there has to be a global treaty to move the whole world forward. Therefore, we need ratification by all 44 states identified as would-be ratifiers to bring the treaty into operation.

It is a matter of fact that the present and the previous British Governments have been active in pursuing precisely that process on a global scale. In fact, we have taken part with our European Union colleagues in demarches to all the countries that have not already signed the treaty. We will continue to be active in that way, and we will certainly continue to pursue those who have not signed and who look as if they do not want to ratify, and draw to their attention the fact that there is not only a moral but a practical imperative that they should take part in that process. Yes, we will be engaged and we will look for support from the whole House for our activities.

I am a little concerned that there should be doubts about the position of the United States. In a letter to the Senate seeking consent to ratification in September, President Clinton said: The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is of singular significance to the continuing efforts to stem nuclear proliferation and strengthen regional and global stability. Its conclusion marks the achievement of the highest priority item on the international arms control and non-proliferation agenda. Its effective implementation will provide a foundation on which efforts to control and limit nuclear weapons can be soundly based. With that sort of endorsement, doubts about the attitude of the White House are misplaced. The White House certainly is using and will use its influence with the Senate; so do we with our American allies. If we explained to the American President that there were doubts in Britain about his role, he might take that as a slight on his intentions and his actions.

North Korea is already a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, which binds it not to test. Of course, that is not the same as signing the CTBT, and we want Korea to sign and to ratify it. That is important, and we will continue to put pressure on the North Koreans in every way we can, along with our allies and the world community. It is important to recognise that this is not some relic of the cold war, with part of the global divide pitted against others. The whole of the P5—Britain, the United States and France obviously, but also Russia and China—are as one on this treaty. We collectively have a common interest in ensuring that North Korea is party to the treaty. While we cannot give guarantees on that, the international community is collectively engaged on that issue.

I was asked about Iraq. Obviously, the position there is serious and we are greatly concerned. There may have been a slight easing of the Iraqi position, but the British Government's position is clear. We are absolutely committed to the role of the United Nations. We have been major contributors to the debate at the United Nations and we will continue to pursue the issue in a way that makes it clear to the Iraqis that there can be no compromise. The world cannot and will not allow compromise in that area. There should be no ambiguity there.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised a number of questions. To be slightly churlish in response to the slight note of churlishness that I detected from the hon. Gentleman, I thought that a little confusion was emerging. On the one hand, he said that Britain should do more in the area of sub-critical tests and maintaining our independent verification capacity, but he also raised doubts raised about whether those were necessary or were simply a prelude to a more dangerous and unstable world. Our position and that of all those who negotiated the treaty is that the need to maintain a safe and reliable system under the CTBT allows for those sorts of test.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not equating computer simulation with sub-critical testing, because they are not identical. I would certainly differentiate between them. Britain should be engaged in developing the one; the other is unhelpful to the process. I had certainly hoped not to seem churlish about the Government in anything I said and I very much welcome the views that the Minister has expressed.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman makes his point. I simply say that safety and reliability are what we are about. That is also what the Americans and others are about. We believe that the international monitoring system works and should allow for the detection of explosions as small as 1 kilotonne on a global basis. That is a significant reassurance. It is far more than exists now. The simple truth of the treaty is that if it is brought into operation and ratified, it will provide the opportunity for inspections to be challenged and bring in a regime that the world lacks. In so doing, it will enhance the safety of the world. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).