Arms Control and Disarmament (Inspections) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 28th October 2003.
With this it will be convenient to discuss schedules 1 and 2.
As our shorthand writer will have taken a note of my previous remarks, I propose not to repeat them.
The 1991 Act provided the necessary right of entry to private land, so that international inspection teams could carry out challenge inspections under section VIII of the protocol on inspections in the CFE treaty. The treaty was subsequently amended by the agreement on adaptation of the CFE treaty, signed in Istanbul on 19 November 1999. That is called the adapted CFE treaty.
The adapted CFE treaty has an enhanced inspection regime, and rights of entry to private land are required to implement inspections under section IX of the protocol on inspections. Section IX inspections, also known as designated area inspections, require those rights because the inspections could cover a large area and would not necessarily be limited to military bases.
In addition, rights of entry are required to implement inspections under section VII of the protocol on inspections. Section VII inspections, otherwise known as declared site inspections, were part of the original CFE treaty but were not included in the 1991 Act. However, increased private ownership and operation of military sites in the UK since 1991 means that rights of entry to private land are now required to ensure that those inspections can be carried out.
The Bill does two things. First, it amends the 1991 Act to provide for such additional necessary rights of entry to private land to carry out inspections. Secondly, it confers a power on Her Majesty to make further amendments to the 1991 Act by Order in Council, should they be needed to implement further amendments of the CFE treaty that relate to inspections.
Clause 1(1) introduces schedule 1, which makes a number of amendments to the 1991 Act to provide for additional rights of entry. Schedule 1 makes three categories of changes to the 1991 Act. First, it adds new rights of entry to allow for the implementation of section VII and section IX inspections. Secondly, it amends the provisions that refer specifically to so-called challenge inspections under section VIII, so that they refer to all three types of inspection. Thirdly, it makes other consequential amendments to reflect amendments made to the protocol on inspections by the agreement on adaptation. Clause 1(2) notes that the repeals set out in schedule 2 have effect.
As I said, I received a letter from the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, who wants more detailed clarification. I propose, with the Committee's permission, to write to him. I am happy to circulate a copy of that letter to other members of the Committee. I can go through all that orally this morning if that is the Committee's wish, but otherwise I will now sit down.
Mr. Conway, what a great pleasure it is to have you in the Chair this morning.
It is in writing, although it is not anything to do with anything other than the Bill before us, I assure you, Mr. Conway.
I ask the Committee's indulgence while I make a few brief comments. Unfortunately, I was not in the House on Second Reading. However, I would like to pay tribute to the sterling work done not only by the Minister, whom I thank for presenting the situation as it stands, but by my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and for Boston and Skegness, who spoke so ably on that occasion. This is not the moment to recount the arguments that were advanced. However, we would like to reiterate the Opposition's belief that the objectives of the Bill are welcome. It will amend the 1991 legislation, and the 1999 adaptation agreement represented a recognition of the changes in the geopolitical landscape since the end of the cold war.
The Minister has referred to his correspondence with my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness. I am grateful to him for his response, and I know that my hon. Friend and I will be interested to read that. We will seek only one or two clarifications in a tiny number of areas, as we are happy with the Bill, and I share the Minister's desire to see it pass into law.
Clause 1 gives effect to schedules 1 and 2, which we will not take issue with. I wish to raise a couple of points about the agreement signed in Istanbul in 1999, to which subsection (1) refers. I do not seek special treatment for companies that will be affected by the new inspection regime, but will the Minister clarify what consultations have taken place to inform them of the changes that enactment of this legislation will bring about?
Will the Minister also clarify two points that were raised on Second Reading, which I believe are best considered in this clause stand part debate, although I am sure the Chairman will correct me if they are not? First, are US military facilities in the UK declared sites under the terms of the 1999 agreement? If the Minister wants to respond to me in writing, that is fine. Secondly, on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire made a succinct point about the interaction of the two ceilings. Incidentally, it appears from reading Hansard that the Minister inadvertently omitted to respond to him. My hon. Friend asked:
''Although I note that in most cases the two ceilings''—
territorial or national—
''are the same, am I correct that equipment in areas that are not covered by the territorial terms of the agreement, for example, the Russian territory beyond the Urals, would remain covered by that country's national ceilings?''—[Official Report, 18 September 2003; Vol. 410, c. 1118.]
Other than that, I am very happy to support the clause and, indeed, the Bill.
I, too, rise briefly to contribute to this important debate. My first observation is that there are more Members here today than there were on Second Reading, which cannot be usual. That may be
a tribute to the Labour Whip. He will be pleased that he got something right this morning. Perhaps the level of attendance on Second Reading had more to do with events in Brent, East than anything else.
This is important legislation. It will underpin and extend the principles of inspection and verification, which are at the heart of arms control. In doing so, it will help to contribute further to the peace and security that we have enjoyed in Europe these past years.
I want to ask one question of the Minister. It may have been an oversight on my part—a tribute to the state of my office—but I do not recall receiving a letter, which he promised me in his winding-up speech on Second Reading, about inspections of US bases in the UK and elsewhere in the treaty area. It would be helpful if he shared that information with the Committee today.
With that small request for clarification, I declare my support for the clause.
I will endeavour to reply to those questions. I apologise to the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) if he has not received a reply on the status of the US bases in the UK. The US is, of course, a party to the CFE treaty, under which US forces stationed in the UK and the treaty area are declared by the USA and are subject to inspection. The US situation is analogous to the position of UK forces stationed in Germany, which are declared by the UK and are also subject to section VII and section VIII inspections. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on that point.
On territorial ceilings, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) is right to note that the CFE treaty covers Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. The adapted CFE treaty has the same area of application. The national ceilings for Russia and Kazakhstan under the CFE treaty and adapted CFE treaty do not cover any equipment held east of the Urals, in the same way as the US national ceiling under the CFE treaty covers equipment held in the area of application but does not cover equipment held in the USA.
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire asked about the discussions with landowners, contractors and defence operators in the private sector. Those discussions mainly involve the firm Qinetiq, which is an important private contractor for defence activity in the UK. Most of its managers are from the Ministry of Defence and they understand the obligations that are laid on the British and other Governments. They accept that the inspection regime will have to be maintained. However, the number of inspections is not onerous and we have no evidence that they will impose a new business burden on the company. That dialogue continues, and responsible members of the private sector whose activities or operations the treaty will cover will, I am sure, comply fully with the Bill and accept the international obligations that we expect companies in other parts in the area of application to respect.
With those points of clarification and my assurance that the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness will
receive a written reply to his questions, which I shall be happy to circulate to other hon. Members, I hope that the Committee will allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.