Chemical Weapons Convention

– in the House of Lords on 18th March 2008.

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Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any proposals to make to the Second Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention to address questions of non-compliance.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the United Kingdom will participate actively in the Second Review Conference. Compliance is central to the effectiveness of the convention and we take seriously the need to ensure it. The UK has focused on strengthening mechanisms to detect and deter non-compliance, including maintaining the credibility of the verification system. The EU has agreed its priorities for the conference, including issues of compliance as set out in its common position.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend, and not just conventionally, for that encouraging Answer, but does he agree that, precisely because the convention is drafted carefully and comprehensively, it has been partly overtaken by time? Does he agree, for example, that proliferation no longer consists exclusively of passing on weapons to other people but could consist of transferring details of a technological process that could be fairly simply implemented? Will he assure the House that the preparatory work for this conference, both governmental and non-governmental, will be reflected in discussions if not in technical amendments?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that there has been extensive consultation with non-governmental organisations and academics and that the preparatory conference is being led by a distinguished British diplomat, our ambassador in the Netherlands, so I hope that his concerns are being well addressed.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, does the Minister accept that this is one convention that has had some success over its 16 or 17-year life? Will he also accept that, if the British Government decide to press really hard at the forthcoming April conference both for a speeding up of the destruction of chemical arsenals, particularly in Russia and the United States, and for more effective compliance in China, Russia, Iran, Sudan and one or two other countries, he will have my full backing and that of this side of the House?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I am very happy to accept a success. The noble Lord is right: there are 183 parties to this convention, only five countries with declared stockpiles and a very robust mechanism for investigating others about which there might be suspicions. We hope that, by 2012, all stockpiles will have been destroyed. There are just one or two countries that may not meet that deadline, but in general he is right that this is a success.

Photo of Lord Lee of Trafford Lord Lee of Trafford Spokesperson in the Lords (Tourism), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence, Whip

My Lords, an article in yesterday's Times highlighted the current suffering of more than 55,000 Iranians as the result of Saddam Hussein's ghastly chemical attacks 20 years ago during the Iran-Iraq war. Today's Iraq is one of only seven countries that have neither signed nor acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Does the Minister agree that US/UK pressure should be applied to ensure that Iraq signs up to the convention without delay?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord and I believe, although I will have to confirm it in writing, that Iraq is one of those countries that are preparing to sign.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in view of the immense significance of this type of potential warfare and therefore of the convention, it is crucial that at the Second Review Conference we should be represented by senior ministerial leadership, thereby not only engaging at a ministerial level in the conference but demonstrating that the Government are giving this issue the priority that it deserves? What have the Government been able to do to raise awareness in the chemical industry in this country about the significance of the CWC?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, we have been trying to raise the level of ministerial attendance at such conferences to signal our support. We are concentrating in the discussions here on seeking the opinions of the industry among others and on communicating to it the importance of compliance. I very much take my noble friend's point on promoting and advertising the goals of this treaty to the industry.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in the further consideration of this convention it should be borne in mind that toxicology is not in every respect an exact science? From time to time, certain chemical substances are released into the environment that may not at first sight appear to be chemical weapons; they may be thought to be innocuous in very small doses but they may be very harmful to the individual in larger doses. Will that point be taken into account in considering the effects of this convention?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, it is certainly correct that there are toxic chemicals that fall outside so-called schedule 1 to this convention. One of the issues for review and for any successor convention after 2012 will be to make sure that there is a more comprehensive list of such chemicals.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government bring forward specific measures relating to emissions problems that have arisen since the last review conference, such as those on dual use and definitions? Also, I did not quite catch the earlier answer: will we be represented by a Minister?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, on the latter point, I honestly cannot say at this point, because I am not aware of the dates of the conference, although I suspect that I would be the Minister involved. We will certainly make every effort. On the noble Lord's first question, the whole point of this review procedure, or preparation procedure for the review, is to catch up with changes that require further investigation. We support the scientific advisory board, as well as training courses, financially, to try to keep the convention current.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, how many of the seven countries that have not signed the convention have significant stockpiles of chemical weapons? How many of the 183 countries that have signed the convention have significant derogations from it?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, on the 12 that have not signed, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord that answer immediately, but I shall return to it. Of the 183 that have signed, five still have stockpiles, and a further country has destroyed its stockpile.