My Lords, the United Kingdom, as one of the depositary governments of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, is considering with our two other co-depositaries, the United States and Russia, how best to mark this important anniversary. We are also taking into account the views of the other states which are party to the convention currently involved in the negotiations on a protocol to strengthen the BTWC. Completion of a legally binding protocol is a key arms control objective for the United Kingdom as it will fill the last remaining major gap in arms control provisions covering weapons of mass destruction.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on penetrating to the point of my Question. The most welcome form of celebration would be the conclusion of an effective verification protocol. Will she convey to the Government my congratulations on their patience and persistence in working for that purpose?
Is it not the case that, unless a draft is in place by the middle of this year, the prospect of securing endorsement at the forthcoming review conference might slip away? Does my noble friend agree that in the eyes of future generations the next two or three years may be seen as the make or break point in the whole disarmament conference, if indeed there are any future generations?
My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Lord that the next two years will be very important. A possible 11 weeks of negotiations remain this year and the successful conclusion of an effective and legally binding protocol would undoubtedly be the most appropriate way to commemorate the anniversary year.
The UK is playing a leading role in the negotiations, where we are responsible for compliance measures--the core of the future protocol. We hope to see substantive progress towards completion by the end of 2000. Consistent with the importance we attach to the negotiations, the UK has offered to host the signing ceremony of the future protocol in London.
My Lords, would the Minister not agree that there is no reason to celebrate at all when any A-level student in this field today can develop and use something far more lethal than the present weapons; for example, by injecting an egg with a nasty substance, then throwing it at a public figure at a meeting, instead of an innocent eclair? That could have a devastating result. What thought have HMG given to this terrible threat of havoc that could be caused by wicked pressure groups or terrorists in this field?
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, there is a cause to celebrate if the protocol can be brought into being. The international community has been seized of this issue for more than 100 years and we have struggled together to bring it to a successful conclusion. As we inch closer to that end, I respectfully suggest to Members of your Lordships' House that that is a great cause for celebration. We know that the development of these weapons is extremely complex and it is the Government's view that the bringing together of international opinion will do much to make this a safer world for future generations.
My Lords, I should like to write to the noble Baroness on that specific question. As she will know, we are making progress, but as I am not precisely seized of the position I shall write to her.
My Lords, returning to the vital question of the satisfactory completion of the protocol, can my noble friend say whether, generally speaking, she is optimistic or otherwise?
My Lords, we are optimistic. Her Majesty's Government have worked hard, as have previous governments. In the past five years, Britain has lead the way in relation to the protocol. We are very close to a mature protocol with which our partners will feel happy. Challenges remain and they are well-known, but we are optimistic that they may be able to be overcome by the end of 2000.
My Lords, during our presidency we took up the issue with great vigour. We have continued to lead on it and to make sure that every opportunity is taken with our international partners to direct their attention to a fruitful outcome for the protocol. We continue to remain in the lead and hope that it will be signed in London.