Arms Control and Disarmament (Inspections) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 28th October 2003.
We find the clause uncontentious, although, again, I would like some clarification from the Minister. The clause allows the Secretary of State to ratify the treaty as and when he wishes, although I note that, on Second Reading, the Minister reassured the House that the Ponsonby rule would be adhered to.
The Minister explained that ratification and implementation of the Act would occur when other states had ratified as well. Has the Minister any indication as to when that might be? We have no desire unnecessarily to constrain the Foreign Secretary, or to limit his freedom to ratify at the most appropriate time for the United Kingdom. By the time ratification and implementation occur, might not the international scene have changed dramatically again? As a rule, is it not more appropriate for the House to consider such legislation at the time when ratification and implementation are envisaged? I would welcome the Minister's comments.
Again, the hon. Gentleman raises important points. The decision as to when to bring an international treaty for transposition into domestic law is a matter partly of parliamentary timetable and partly of willingness of the usual channels to find a moment when that can be done. It is right to bring this into our law, to bring us into compliance and to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the House of Commons is taking its international commitments seriously.
However, as I said on Second Reading—the point was underlined by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness—the common position of all NATO member states is that we will ratify when we are satisfied that the other principal states, chiefly Russia, are complying fully with the treaty's obligations. Clearly, it is disappointing that Russia does not seem likely to meet its Istanbul commitments. I hope to attend December's ministerial meeting in Maastricht of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, when we shall have to consider the matter. It is a subject of concern among the new neighbours of the European Union—Ukraine, Moldova and Romania—because Russian troops are on Moldovan territory guarding the ammunition dump at Colbasna.
There is a problem in Transnistria with Mr. Smirnov, who is not acting under the rules of the Moldovan Government. I recently discussed the issues
in Kiev and in Bucharest. Russia and Georgia have not yet agreed on the closure of the Russian base at Gadauta, or on the time scale for the withdrawal of Russian station bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki. We have a major problem—it is no use ducking the issue—with the failure of Russia to come into full compliance with the obligations of the treaty, because it is a condition on all NATO member states that that must happen before the treaty can come into full effect.
It is right that the House should enact the appropriate domestic legislation so that, when that
moment comes, we can immediately set about entering into full compliance.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Bill to be reported, without amendment.
Committee rose at eighteen minutes past Nine o'clock.