Non-Proliferation Review

– in Westminster Hall at 2:00 pm on 8th March 2005.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 2:00 pm, 8th March 2005

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I also thank Mr. Speaker for selecting this issue for debate. The non-proliferation treaty review conference is due to be held in New York in May.

First, I should declare an interest. Before everyone gets too excited, I should say that I do not have shares in BAE Systems, Boeing or anything like that. I am, however, a lifetime member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I am also the chairman of the parliamentary group on CND, although it has not yet been declared an all-party group, and we are awaiting Tory Members to make up the numbers. Finally, I am a vice-chairman of CND and a member of its national council.

The issue could not be more important for the future of the world. Nuclear weapons have been a cloud over us all throughout my lifetime and that of everybody in the Chamber, and that has been the case ever since the first bombs were exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Efforts were constantly made to obtain some degree of disarmament through controls, test bans and the various arguments that were put forward internationally. The non-proliferation treaty of 1970 was seen as an enormous step forward and a way to get us out of the dangers of a nuclear holocaust. The five declared nuclear weapons states—the United States, the then Soviet Union, Britain, France and China—all agreed to the treaty, which would do two things. First, it would prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology outside the five nuclear states. Secondly, those five states would, in the longer term, disarm. In other words, we would begin to see the end of nuclear weapons.

The conference this May is part of the five-yearly review process, and this debate is intended to allow hon. Members to express their views about it. Above all, however, the Minister will be able to tell us what stance the Government will take at the review conference and whether we shall see a development of the exciting statement that was made after the 2000 conference.

Before I go into that, however, we should reflect for a moment on the proliferation that has taken place since 1970. Several states now have nuclear weapons; some of them have a delivery capability, and many would have the ability to manufacture many more nuclear weapons if they were minded to do so. This year's conference is therefore not simply a five-yearly review: it is an important watershed. Are we to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons by following the two pillars of the 1970 treaty—disarmament by the five states plus disarmament by non-declared nuclear weapons states?

We should remember that one pariah state developed nuclear weapons and gave them up. Under apartheid, South Africa developed nuclear weapons, but with the end of apartheid and the installation of the African National Congress Government under Nelson Mandela, it renounced them and helped to make the continent of Africa nuclear-free. We should applaud South Africa for that and recognise that the moral stature that it enjoys in the world is the product not only of the end of apartheid, but of the fact that it is not threatening anybody.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

May I ask my hon. Friend to make a similar point about Argentina? At one time, it had at the least plans to move towards nuclear weapons, but it gave them up because it realised that, rather than making Latin America more peaceful, nuclear weapons would massively destabilise relations with Brazil and, indeed, around the globe. So, Argentina also deserves some credit.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Absolutely; that is a good point, which I endorse. Argentina, too, was developing a capability, although I do not think that it had got as far as South Africa. However, it gave up that capability.

Other states have been less promising in that respect. We know that Israel has developed nuclear weapons and that it has a delivery capability and an advanced missile system. We know that because Mordecai Vanunu had the courage to tell the truth about Israel's nuclear weapons and subsequently spent the best part of two decades in prison as a result. He is still under control orders in Jerusalem, which we hope will be lifted on 21 April. He will then be free to come to the House and tell us the truth about the nuclear threat in that region.

Of the other countries that have nuclear weapons, India and Pakistan are in negotiation about no first use and, I hope, possible long-term disarmament, although when President Musharraf addressed a meeting in the House, which I and many colleagues attended, I was not encouraged by his remarks about nuclear weapons. Given the poverty in India and Pakistan, it is unconscionable that either country would spend the resources that are required for developing a nuclear delivery system when they should be developing education, housing and health and making all other necessary social developments in their countries.

Clearly, North Korea has developed nuclear weapons and, tragically, has withdrawn from the NPT system. I hope that the negotiations by all the countries involved will bring North Korea back. The Minister's colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr. Rammell, is not here today, but he went to North Korea to engage in that discussion. I hope that his efforts will be redoubled, so that there is no prospect of another war breaking out on the Korean peninsula.

The issue of Iranian nuclear weapons is discussed loudly, principally by the Pentagon and others, although Mohamed el-Baradei, the United Nations weapons inspector, has made several visits to Iran and has confirmed that he thinks that it has ceased the development of enriched uranium that could lead to the development of weapons-grade material and that it is taking part in negotiations. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he can tell us that he supports that process, too, and that we will continue engagement with Iran to ensure that there is no development of nuclear weapons in the area, and that we will have no more of the bellicose statements from either President Bush or Secretary of State Rice in which they seem to be overtly threatening Iran. Surely enough life has already been lost in Iraq, without threatening Iran. Disarmament must be the order of the day.

Mohamed el-Baradei, the UN weapons inspector, made some interesting comments in the run-up to the NPT. He said:

"It is clear that recent events have placed the NPT and the regime supporting it under unprecedented stress, exposing some of its inherent limitations and pointing to areas that need to be adjusted".

He then proposed seven steps that would strengthen the NPT regime and, with it, world security. He said:

"Some of the needed fixes can be made in May, but only if governments are ready to act."

Those steps, which would not require amending the treaty, include a five-year moratorium on building new facilities for uranium enrichment, plutonium separation and materials that can be used for nuclear weapons production. He went on:

"There is no compelling reason for building more of these proliferation-sensitive facilities. The nuclear industry already has more than enough capacity to fuel its power plants and research facilities".

We should listen carefully to Mohamed el-Baradei because he has important things to say, more so because he was not listened to properly about Iran and has put a huge effort into Iraq and North Korea. He is a force for good in the world and a force for peace. He should be treated with the respect that he deserves.

Item 6 of the final document that was referred to at the 2000 conference states:

"An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States parties are committed under article VI."

That was a very welcome statement. The declaration put forward a series of proposals that included:

"Further efforts by the nuclear-weapon States to reduce their nuclear arsenals unilaterally; increased transparency by the nuclear-weapon States with regard to the nuclear weapons capabilities . . . reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons, based on unilateral initiatives . . . Concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems; a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons will ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination", and

"The engagement as soon as appropriate of all nuclear-weapon States in the process leading to the total elimination of their nuclear weapons."

Those are important items, and important to remember as we go to that conference, which will take place just a few weeks before the 60th anniversary of the explosion of the world's first nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In some ways, the conference ought to be held in Hiroshima. Those who believe that nuclear weapons provide security, safety or a solution of any kind to the world's problems should think for a moment of all those who died in 1945, of all the resources that have been wasted since then on developing nuclear weapons and of those who continue to die from the cancerous fallout from those explosions or from nuclear tests that have taken place since 1945.

The British Government have to face up to some serious, very important questions; any British Government would have to. We are signatories to the 1970 treaty, therefore we should not be developing any new nuclear weapons. I understand that the Trident submarine system is coming to the end of its usable life. I should like to hear a declaration from the Government that when that happens, the system will not be replaced and that we see it as our obligation under the 1970 treaty, to which we adhered, to get rid of our nuclear weapons at that stage.

Work is going on at Aldermaston on what I believe to be the preparatory development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. I should like to hear from the Government about that work, about what weapons are being developed and about the United States' participation in that process. We are required by the treaty to pursue a nuclear-free world, so are we developing a new generation of nuclear weapons and prepared to start the development of a new delivery system or are we going to play our part in nuclear arms reduction? It is all very well for us to lecture the rest of the world on the danger of nuclear proliferation and on how bad nuclear weapons are—it is a danger, and they are appalling—yet we ourselves are developing them and continuing to develop and hold them.

I recognise that the number of nuclear warheads has been reduced. However, I also recognise that under the NATO umbrella we have our own weapons that are theoretically independent of the United States. Under the NATO treaty system, nuclear weapons are also held in non-declared countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, because they are part of the NATO command structure. We need to be clear about how that fits with what we are trying to achieve.

I want others to take part in this debate, so I shall conclude by drawing attention to the preparatory work for this year's conference in New York, which gives us an enormous opportunity to move forward. There was a great deal of hope around after the 2000 conference. In his contribution to that conference, my right hon. Friend Mr. Hain, then a Foreign Office Minister, made it clear that he saw Britain as on the fast track towards disarmament and as playing our full part in that.

We have not heard such welcome statements from the Secretary of State for Defence or any Defence Ministers since 2001. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Defence indicated that there were circumstances in which he would be prepared to authorise the use of nuclear weapons by this country, ending the no first use policy. I hope that we will hear something clear to the effect that that is no longer the case and that we would not be prepared to use nuclear weapons under such circumstances. I also hope that, given all the insecurities that have existed in the world from September 2001 onwards—the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq and all that has gone with them—we will ask ourselves the obvious question: what good are nuclear weapons in any of those circumstances? Do they not just threaten the destruction of this planet and eat up valuable resources that could be better used on something else, and should we not say that we intend to get rid of them? I hope that the British Government are prepared to take that step.

This subject has dominated the Labour party for a long time, and as we move towards the NPT conference and the possibility—I hope that it is only a possibility—of the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons, I suspect that it will become much more of a centre-stage political issue. It is up to this House to declare its views on the matter before the conference. I get the feeling that the majority of the public in this country have had enough of the losses brought about by the wars in which we have recently been involved, and have no stomach or wish for getting involved in preparation for the destruction of this planet, which is what nuclear weapons could bring about.

Many people have campaigned on the issue with great principle and verve for many years. Many have given up lives and careers to do so. Mordecai Vanunu is only one; many others, including Joseph Rotblat, have done a great deal. We should listen carefully to what they have to say, and use this opportunity to move in the direction of a more peaceful globe, not a world at war.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:16 pm, 8th March 2005

It is a pleasure to follow Jeremy Corbyn, who, as he says, has had a lifelong commitment to the cause of the abolition of nuclear weapons. I have had almost as long a commitment to the cause of nuclear deterrence and this country's retention of nuclear weapons. We have debated the subject many times. Although it was styled as a debate on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference, when I saw that he was fortunate enough to have obtained this debate—on which I congratulate him—I knew that I could rely on him to go into the broader issues of whether Britain, in particular, should continue to possess nuclear weapons. I hope to follow his example of not out-speaking my allotted time, so I shall straight away address some of his points.

The hon. Gentleman asked us to think about Hiroshima and all the lives that were lost, but one point that is often overlooked is that Hiroshima was probably the first ever example in the atomic age of a nuclear-free zone. The western allies faced the question of what they were going to do to end the war; the bloody campaign was scheduled to continue, and a full-scale invasion of Japan would have cost many more lives than the bombing of Hiroshima did. When that was being considered, what would the allies have had to think about if the Japanese held atomic weapons of their own? I am not saying that I would have wanted the Japanese to hold atomic weapons, but the fact is that when one side has atomic or nuclear weapons, it completely alters the situation if its actual or potential adversary possesses them too.

The hon. Gentleman referred to wars such as that in Afghanistan, and others that are undoubtedly below the nuclear threshold. I can recall debating these matters with the CND 20 years ago, and in those days the argument was, "What on earth does Britain want nuclear weapons for? They didn't do us any good in the Falklands." My response now is what it was then: just because a given antidote to a particular deadly disease does not work against all sorts of other diseases, that is no good reason to throw it away. Nuclear weapons are not a deterrent to all forms of aggression, but the nuclear deterrent undoubtedly works against certain forms of aggression that exist when one country has weapons of mass destruction and another does not.

Let us consider the question of our treaty commitments under article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That is often said by unilateral nuclear disarmers to commit us to a nuclear-free world and to the abolition of our nuclear weapons. Well, yes it does, but only in a way that encompasses such ideal goals as the abolition of all weapons worldwide, and of war in particular. If there were a practical policy to which we could all sign up, and if we could all march up to the lectern and raise our hands and vote one thing out of existence, I am sure that we would all agree that war was top of the list. We would love to vote conflict out of existence, we would love to vote nuclear war out of existence and we would love to vote conventional war out of existence. However, if we cannot do it all at once, we have to ask ourselves whether we are making the world a safer or a more dangerous place by voting one of those elements out of existence before the others. The case of those of us who have argued for 20 years or more in favour of the nuclear deterrent, is that in a world in which wars continue to happen, the abolition of nuclear weapons in the hands of the democracies and in those of worldwide society, would make the world a safer place for conventional warfare.

Let us return to the example of Hiroshima. Did the fact that nuclear weapons did not exist until 1945 make the world a safer place? Possibly, the 50 million people who were killed on both sides, including victims of the holocaust and other innocent civilians, would, if they but had a voice, disagree with the proposition. In reality, nuclear weapons can sometimes make the world more dangerous, and sometimes they can make it safer. Who would really argue now that in the situation that we faced for half a century—confrontation between the totalitarian Soviet bloc and the western democracies—the prescription of the CND should have been followed; the west and NATO should have abandoned the nuclear deterrent and left the Soviet Union with a monopoly of nuclear weapons? I remember the great debates about the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles, when it was said that we were five minutes from Armageddon, four minutes from Armageddon, a minute and a half from it or whatever time the nuclear clock was supposed to be ticking off; I remember all those apocalyptic statements. However, in the end what got rid of the nuclear weapons was multilateral negotiations, compounded by a change in the political system in the Soviet Union.

They say that all simple speeches should have a single main point, and I have come to the single main point of this one: that it is not the weapon systems per se that matter, it is the nature of the political systems of the countries that possess them.

Look what happened when we came to the end of the cold war. Did the Russians suddenly abolish all the nuclear weapons that we had been so fearful about for so many years? Of course they did not. But we suddenly stopped being anything like as fearful of them as we had been for such a long time. That was because Russia took great strides towards democracy. The only reason that subsequently—so long as Russia remains, as we hope that it will, on the democratic road—we are fearful of the Russian nuclear arsenal is the danger that those weapons could somehow leach out from Russian control into that of other societies and groups with no commitment to democratic principles. Then we would be concerned once again.

Therefore, the real answer to the question is not to ask, in some false egalitarian way, how we can lecture the dictatorships of the world that they should not have nuclear weapons when we keep our own. The answer is simple; I certainly do not have a problem with it. It is that they are dictatorships and we are a democracy. Nuclear weapons are good in the hands of democracies faced with dictatorships in the world; they are bad in the hands of dictatorships, as are other potential means of waging war. I have no difficulty at all in saying that Britain giving up nuclear weapons would not make a scrap of difference to whether a dictatorship continued to possess them. In those debates for so many years, I challenged again and again those who said that we should give up our nuclear weapons with the simple question: "Who are you saying would follow our example? Name a specific country." Nobody ever did.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman very carefully. Would he accept that, according to his logic—ignoring the issue of dictatorship and non-dictatorship because we are clear that North Korea is a dictatorship—it is highly unlikely that North Korea will invade the United States but it is not improbable that there could be circumstances in which the United States used military power against the North Koreans? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his logic, alas, is that North Korea secures its future by developing a nuclear weapon? Would he advise the North Korean regime to pursue the nuclear option?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is falling into precisely the trap that, as I was saying, people who subscribe to his point of view continually fail to avoid. I do not need to advise North Korea. North Korea will do what it considers to be in its best interests. If it genuinely believes that it is at risk from being invaded by the United States, and if it has nuclear weapons, which apparently it has, nothing on earth—certainly no advice from the likes of me or, dare I say it, from him—will persuade it to abandon them.

I return briefly to what the non-proliferation treaty actually says. Article VI states:

"Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date".

Most people would say that we have done that. I do not believe that most people would say that we, at any rate, are involved in a nuclear arms race, given the reductions that have been made. The article goes on to say

"and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

The article therefore commits us to a disarmed world in the same breath as it commits us to a nuclear disarmed world. I long for the day when we have worldwide disarmament of every sort, because that will imply that there has been a revolution in the minds of man and that we no longer want to kill each other when we have the chance. Unfortunately, as we know from our own history and from present-day conflicts, the minds of man have not undergone that revolution. Until they do, people who do not want to be killed will have to defend themselves and deter attack.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The hon. Gentleman is describing an appalling prospect for the human race. Does he believe, however, that some people learn to live in peace and harmony with each other, that not everyone around the world kills each other, and that most countries have survived perfectly well without nuclear weapons?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Absolutely. I would even go so far as to say that most people subscribe to those views. Unfortunately, we have a perfect analogy in crime, particularly murder, in our own society. Most people in civilised societies do not approve of crime, and certainly do not approve of murder. However, the reality is that if enough people in domestic society are willing to commit murder, then domestic society must be able to prevent it, deter it, and if necessary, punish it. The same applies in international society.

In conclusion, Iran and Iraq were mentioned. It is too early to say what the final outcome will be of the war in Iraq, which I supported before, during and after it was carried out, but the signs are that for all the criticisms that were made of President Bush and for all the dire predictions of the impossibility of bringing any form of democracy to the middle east, the effect of those elections in Iraq is already beginning to resonate throughout the other countries of the middle east.

Progress of a sort has recently been made in the Lebanon, which I doubt we would have seen had it not been for recent events, particularly the successful elections, in Iraq. I believe that there is hope for the world of surviving the nuclear threat. That hope does not depend on making the mistakes that were made way back in the 1930s when people wrongly believed that aerial bombardment would destroy civilisation, and were therefore determined to limit the weapons and, in a sense, abolish the war. They limited the weapons, but they did not abolish the war. Instead, they brought it about. The way to limit the threat of nuclear weapons is to promote the spread of democracy. If democracy spreads, the nuclear problem will take care of itself.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Labour, Edinburgh East and Musselburgh 2:30 pm, 8th March 2005

We all agree that we are discussing an important subject, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn on initiating this debate. As he reminded us, the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons—the NPT—came into operation in 1970. Dr. Lewis also referred to the treaty, which originated during the cold war. Looking around, I see other colleagues who took part in similar debates during that period; some of us had most of our adult political lives during the cold war.

I wish to make a simple point, which is not intended to be a response to the previous speaker. At the time when the SS20s and the cruise missiles were being deployed, we were justified in being very worried that there might be a nuclear exchange. It might first occur at the theatre level, but most of us were convinced that, if such a nuclear exchange occurred in Europe, it could quickly escalate to a major all-out nuclear attack. Of course, that would have been Armageddon; the survivors really would have envied the dead. It is worth acknowledging that we are now free of that threat, which is a tremendous advance. Whatever the problems facing us—I shall refer to them shortly—the fact is that that threat and fear is behind us, because the cold war is over.

New problems have arisen since the end of the cold war. Recently, there was the 9/11 attack in the United States of America in 2001. As a result, there has been a huge focus on the need to counteract international terrorism. Our Government and other western Governments, including that of the US, have certainly taken such a focus. Furthermore, this week is the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombing. I shall not be drawn into some of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for New Forest, East, but I point out that there is an issue in relation to the possibility of a terrorist organisation eventually getting its hands on weapons of mass destruction; in the long term, there must a risk of al-Qaeda or another such organisation getting hold of a dirty nuclear bomb. In that context, I simply wish to make reference to the proliferation security initiative, which is intended to interdict the movement of WMD-related materials. Importantly, the group of 11 states involved includes the United States, France and the United Kingdom.

I was quickly going to list some of the pluses and minuses of the period since the NPT came into operation, and particularly the '90s and beyond. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North covered some of them, and I shall not repeat what he said, but I was glad that he referred to the achievement of the African National Congress in South Africa; we should always acknowledge that that incoming Government made a tremendous decision.

It is not all gloom; we also have the strategic arms reduction treaties, START 1 and START 2. It is fair to say that START 2 has not yet fully delivered. Instead of START 3, we have the strategic offensive reduction treaty or SORT, on which I know that some Members might wish to comment, because in several respects it does not offer as much as we would have liked. The particular treaty I wish to highlight is the comprehensive test ban treaty or CTBT, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1996 and which France, Russia and the UK have ratified. That is important, because the five official nuclear states must ratify it before it comes into operation. It has not yet come into operation because neither China nor the US has ratified it, but it is an important treaty, and I hope that it will come into force.

My hon. Friend referred to the minuses. There are lots of them; not least, they include the fact that the five official nuclear states—those that existed when the NPT was established—have been joined by what they officially call nuclear-capable states: Israel, India and Pakistan. In the context of Pakistan, there was the worrying revelation that A.Q. Khan, who was a senior scientist and manager of the Pakistani nuclear programme, was part of a network that was involved in selling nuclear weapon know-how and materials to other countries. It is a negative development when any new country develops nuclear weapons, and it is a positive development when any country gives up nuclear weapons, as South Africa did. I could touch on Iran and North Korea, as my hon. Friend did, but I will move on, because I know that some of my colleagues want to take part in the debate.

Given the run-up to the last two NPT conferences in 1995 and 2000, I think that there is a feeling in many countries, which is shared by many people, that the world has not delivered sufficiently and that nuclear weapon states in particular have not delivered enough. The treaty was a bargain struck in 1970 between nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states that nuclear weapon states would be allowed to keep nuclear weapons on the basis that they would get rid of them and help non-nuclear weapon states to develop nuclear power peacefully.

As a reflection of many non-nuclear countries' frustration with the lack of progress, the new agenda coalition of eight states was set up in the 1990s. That was an important development, as the coalition is a positive force for nuclear disarmament. In 1999, at the General Assembly of the UN, it called on nuclear weapon states to

"make an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and to engage without delay in an accelerated process of negotiations, thus achieving nuclear disarmament to which they are committed under article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons".

That resolution was carried by 111 votes to 13, with 39 abstentions.

The new agenda coalition has called for the negotiation of a general convention banning all nuclear weapons, using the model of the 1983 chemical weapons convention. As hon. Members recognise, there is currently an implicit understanding that France, the UK and China will be let off the hook a bit until the US and Russia further reduce their arsenals. Much as we want those arsenals to be reduced, we may well have to consider other ways in which to get better responses from nuclear weapon states and to have more impact on the situation.

I look forward very much to hearing what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has to say. I have no doubts about his personal commitment to ensuring that the British Government do their best to achieve progress. Indeed, I think that we all recognise that the present Government have made some progress. The British permanent representative to the UN conference on disarmament, which is the main disarmament body and is based in Geneva, set out some the things done in the preparatory committee for the fourth conference last year. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will add to what he said, but I point out that the UK has provided working support for a fissile material cut-off treaty, which would be an important advance if we could achieve it.

We have a long way to go. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North has a long-standing, consistent interest in this matter, and there is a general consensus on the Government side, even if it does not extend to the other side of the House, that we need to give this matter high priority and that more needs to be achieved, not least at the conference. It is remarkable that the 1995 and 2000 conferences came out quite well in the end, although there was a lot of pessimism in the preceding years. The same might happen with the next conference; I certainly hope that it will be successful, but as important, if not more so, is what happens afterwards.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Before I call Mr. Savidge, it might be for the convenience of the Chamber for me to indicate my intentions. If there is a Division in the main Chamber, I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North 2:40 pm, 8th March 2005

I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn on securing the debate, on his thought-provoking speech and on the work that he has done over many years in raising this highly important issue.

There is common agreement that the British Government are right to want to use their presidency of the G8 and the European Union to tackle two of the great world problems: climate change and global poverty. However, it could be said that proliferation is possibly an even more crucial issue facing us this year. The recent report of the UN high-level panel warned us that

"We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation."

It said that—despite the fact that, in some ways, one could say that until now the non-proliferation regime has been remarkably successful at limiting proliferation. Indeed, ironically, the invasion of Iraq showed that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty plus containment diplomacy were much more successful than most of us had expected. Iraq had probably abandoned its nuclear weapons programme and abolished its weapons of mass destruction by the mid-1990s.

Some apologists for that war claim that it has been successful in putting pressure on countries such as Libya. I find that a difficult argument to follow, because I think that Libya was already showing signs of constructive engagement since the negotiations on Lockerbie. It could at least as easily be argued that countries such as North Korea and Iran might see the risk of a US invasion as a reason for wanting to develop a nuclear deterrent.

Iran and North Korea reflect one of the weaknesses of the existing treaty. First, the treaty assumed that civil nuclear production and military nuclear production can be separated. In practice, there is an increasing possibility of dual use. The same centrifuges that are used to enrich material up to civil nuclear use might further be used to achieve the enrichment to weapons-grade material. That is so even when one is applying the additional protocol. As my right hon. Friend Dr. Strang said, Iran and Libya also illustrate the tremendous danger that was represented by the A.Q. Khan network and the possibility of nuclear weapons coming from a nuclear black market and their being used not only by states but by terrorists.

The second great weakness in the treaty is the situation of the de facto nuclear weapons states—India and Pakistan, and particularly Israel, because it is a catalyst to proliferation in the middle east.

In the eyes of many countries, the third great weakness has been the position of the nuclear weapons states. There has been a perceived lack of commitment on their part to pursuing nuclear disarmament and particular concern about the position of the Bush Administration. One must have considerable sympathy for the leaders of the new agenda coalition states when they said that the Bush Administration seem to be treating the treaty more as if it were an à la carte menu from which they could pick the bits that they liked than as a proper international treaty.

The review conference of 2000 was a considerable success, not least because Britain played a very constructive role in bringing together some of the nuclear weapons states and the non-nuclear weapons states. There was an action plan, which contained 13 steps. Various people are to blame, but I must say that the Bush Administration are particularly to blame for having virtually discarded that. They have abolished the anti-ballistic missile treaty and are refusing to make any progress towards the comprehensive test ban treaty. They share blame with China for the fact that the production of fissile materials ban has been stalled in arguments over the possibility of weapons in space. The Moscow treaty is widely perceived as not doing nearly enough to produce irreversible and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons.

Then, of course, there is the worrying talk about producing new nuclear weapons systems, including ones that would make nuclear weapons more usable, thus breaking the nuclear taboo that has been common to all states for several decades. There is also talk of breaking the negative security assurances that we give to non-nuclear weapons states. That is also worrying, because it gives the impression that there is something arbitrary and capricious about the way in which the Administration regard not only bits of the treaty but the designating of states as to whether or not they are entitled to nuclear weapons. We need not an arbitrary but a fair system of international rule of law by treaty if we are to build a stable world.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour/Co-operative, Loughborough

My hon. Friend speaks eloquently and with a great deal of knowledge on the subject. He has come to the crux of the problem. Even the Government's strategic defence review of 2004 discussed ending nuclear weapons. They have said that if it is possible

"to include British nuclear weapons in any negotiations, without endangering our security interests, we shall do so."

Part of the problem is that, despite the fine words said in 1995 and 2000—and possibly again in 2005—the crux is the enforcement and the signals sent out to countries in between those words. What does my hon. Friend propose we can do to ensure that many of the things that he has talked about are put into place on the ground between the conferences, rather than just having the fine words every five years?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North

I will answer that later on. There are one or two proposals that I would like to touch on and I am conscious of the time.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. The hon. Gentleman said later on. The Member raising the debate ought to have an opportunity to hear a proper reply from the Minister. I have no power to impose time limits, but a couple of Members are trying to catch my eye before the winding-up speeches. Would the hon. Gentleman bear that in mind when he thinks about later on?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North

I will try to do that.

Obviously, there have been some hopes that the Bush second term might prove to be slightly more conciliatory. I have to say that the announcement yesterday of the appointment of John Bolton, who could be described as one of the most virulent and outspoken opponents of arms control and the United Nations, as the US ambassador to the United Nations bodes very ill for the future of the treaty and of the planet.

The UK needs to play a constructive role, as we did in the previous review. Some states will obviously go to the conference purely to try to be disruptive by criticising the United States. The United States needs to be persuaded to be more flexible. We have to oppose absolutely any suggestion by the US that the agreements of 1995 and 2000 can be regarded as history. Allowing a new Administration of any state to ignore everything that that state has agreed in the past breaks down not only the NPT but the whole basis of international law. We must try to reinforce the NPT and the previous agreements of 1995 and 2000 and try to preserve as many of the 13 steps as possible.

Many positive proposals have been put forward by Dr. el-Baradei, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, by some of the NGOs and by various of the states, such as the new agenda coalition. We will not make much progress on the CBTB, but we should at least try to get agreement to maintain a moratorium on testing. We should try to get the fissile material ban through and agree to Dr. el-Baradei's proposal to try to modify reactors to reduce the flow of production of weapons-grade material. We need to strengthen the additional protocol, bring in the de facto states and take firm action with states that withdraw from the NPT.

The nuclear weapons states must abandon the idea of new nuclear weapons programmes. We must make some proper progress towards nuclear disarmament by strengthening treaties such as the Moscow treaty or going well beyond them. Other countries should listen positively to what Britain has done in de-alerting nuclear weapons. It is absurd that so long after the end of the cold war we should have nuclear weapons on a hair-trigger. We need to develop the work that Britain is doing to improve verification, reduce the role of nuclear weapons in strategic thinking, strengthen the negative security assurances and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and try to extend nuclear-free zones, which now cover most of the Southern Hemisphere.

In 2000, Britain played a positive role in bringing the states together. I hope that in 2005—a far more difficult and dangerous time—we can also act as a bridge between the different states. The stakes could not be higher. If the NPT breaks down and there is proliferation and nuclear arms racing, we could face not only nuclear terrorism in future decades or centuries, but regional nuclear war or even major nuclear war, which, in a worst-case scenario, could endanger the very survival of the human species.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central 2:50 pm, 8th March 2005

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn on securing this debate. Dr. Lewis took up the almost classical position, but—I hope that he will forgive me for saying this—the world has moved a little on since the days of the cold war.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

I am told that New Forest, East has not moved on since it was founded by William the Conqueror. That gives it its own charm, but does not bring it into the 21st century.

There are important reasons why we should debate the issue, not simply—and rightly—because of the run-up to the review conference this year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North pointed out, during the next Parliament this country will probably have to consider its future as a nuclear power. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us on this occasion what decisions are being prepared. However, it is important in considering such matters to recognise that the world is moving to higher levels of security, or insecurity. Currently, there is a strong thesis that suggests that the proliferators are in the ascendancy and that those who argue against proliferation are losing the battle.

It is worth restating the fact that one of the commitments of the nuclear states under the NPT was to de-escalate tensions, and seek more stability and security. Over the past few years Britain has played a part in that and, as my right hon. Friend Dr. Strang said, in some respects we have made real progress. However, it would be difficult to argue that the collective world of non-nuclear powers has been given the signal that the nuclear powers have been keen to move forward.

For example, one of the major drivers in the near future might be serious movements by the United States to adopt its strategic defence initiative. That programme could be a vehicle for vertical proliferation, by which I mean that it could encourage existing nuclear states to upgrade their nuclear stocks. I do not speak for or against China, but it is the obvious example. China's nuclear doctrine has always included the capacity to do serious damage to a number of north American cities in the event of nuclear attack by the United States. There are enough deterrents in place, but if the Chinese felt that they could no longer achieve that, the obvious answer would be to increase massively the number of decoy missiles and the number of active warheads available. The knock-on effect of that on China's neighbours, principally India, could be profound. India may choose to respond; and if it did, Pakistan would up the ante, and so on. Proliferation will take place among the nuclear states if we do not actively seek to de-escalate.

We face real and different dangers nowadays—that is the flaw in the cold war logic. My hon. Friends referred to A.Q. Khan as driving proliferation. As we know, that proliferation has extended to other non-nuclear states, as has by now been well demonstrated. The problem is not just unfortunate: it is a serious flaw in the mutually assured destruction canon and means that there are now states that have been drawn, by their internal logic, into that proliferation agenda. We know, for example, that if Iran were to move along the road towards nuclear weapons, it would have a profound effect on its neighbours. Israel, as a nuclear weapons state in any case, might want to respond in some way—not, it is to be hoped, militarily, but in any case by increasing security.

However, those two drivers might have an impact on countries such as Turkey, with the prospect, perhaps, of a country such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia seeking nuclear weapons. The idea of a country with the political instability of the present Saudi Arabia becoming a nuclear weapons state is not the cheery matter that the hon. Member for New Forest, East would have us believe; it would be incredibly destabilising for the whole of the middle east. There is a real question about a Saudi Government in the future perhaps being replaced by what the hon. Gentleman himself described as non-democrats. Nuclear weapons would be catastrophic in those hands, and we should realise that.

The other big difference that is now apparent is proliferation not just to previously non-nuclear states but to non-state actors—terrorists. That is the real challenge for us all, because the most likely driver for that process is the Soviet legacy of nuclear stocks in Russia. In addition to that, there is capacity in the furtive world of nuclear proliferation for sideways leakage in a way that, from the point of view of a proliferating Government, may seem orderly—missiles in North Korea or, in the past, nuclear technology in Pakistan. It may leak into the hands of organisations such as al-Qaeda. That is a phenomenally dangerous prospect for the world, so there are strong and cogent reasons, in a situation as potentially unstable as the present, to re-examine our nuclear doctrines—our nuclear theologies, so to speak—and bring them forward into the 21st century. Britain can play a key role in that context and has done so at critical points in the past. The Government, with a genuine commitment to seeking more stable levels of security, may not be prepared to take the great leaps that were argued for in the past. Perhaps we are living in an era in which it would be sensible to take incremental steps forward. However, Britain could take the lead in arguing for those incremental steps, which could make the world considerably safer.

Part of what I am talking about might involve, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh mentioned, the fissile material cut-off treaty. It would be very significant if we could make progress with that. It would be very significant if the United States and China could make progress on the test ban treaty. A big flaw in the existing NPT structure, although it is very difficult to reorganise, is the role to be assigned to the nuclear states that are outside the treaty provision—India, Pakistan and Israel. It is far more sensible for them to be brought into the framework so that they can play a constructive rather than destructive role.

I hope that the Government will consider—it is vital in the context not just of Iran but of proliferation around the world—that it would not be ridiculous to give Iran some military guarantees against attack. Those need not be military guarantees for all circumstances, but guarantees against attack, and particularly nuclear attack. It would not be unreasonable to tell the Iranians that we recognise that, with two nuclear near-neighbours, the world could give some guarantees.

Whether the Iranians would believe the guarantees would always be a matter for negotiation, but there are practical steps that a well-disposed British Government, which I believe we have, could take part in to move us away from the current increasing insecurity of the planet, and towards increasing security. There will not, perhaps, be the great romance of the clashes of the days of the cold war, but instead a rather miserable future for parts of the world, if not the world, if we allow nuclear proliferators to proceed not just with proliferation of nuclear weapons but with their use. There could be a much better world if we moved the agenda towards greater stability.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

I remind hon. Members that the Minister needs a decent chance to reply. There is half an hour, and there will be a Division shortly, but the time will be added on.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 2:59 pm, 8th March 2005

I congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on securing the debate.

The exchanges during the opening contributions lifted the debate on to a philosophical plane, although the picture painted by Dr. Lewis was rather depressing. I hope that his analysis is wrong. He might be in danger of drawing the wrong conclusions from the recent Iraq war and its effects on democracy in the middle east. I do not intend to get drawn into that issue, as I would be out of order; perhaps we shall debate it on another occasion.

The non-proliferation treaty is the cornerstone of efforts to rid the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons. In the 1990s, there was a great deal of confidence that substantial progress was being made in eliminating the threats of nuclear war, but the growth of international terrorism and the exposure of the international nuclear bazaar run by A.Q. Khan dented that optimism somewhat and shook any complacency out of the system.

The review conference comes at a crucial time; not only has the context of nuclear weapons discussions changed, but the activities of key states such as North Korea and Iran are giving us cause for concern. It would be inappropriate for us to ignore some of the important steps in nuclear disarmament that have been taken in recent years. The UK Government deserve continued recognition for the serious steps that have been taken: the withdrawal of the RAF's freefall nuclear weapon; the reduction to a single nuclear weapons delivery system in Trident; and a 70 per cent. overall reduction in the explosive power of the UK's military capabilities. The Government also signed up to the comprehensive test ban treaty in 1998, and they have undoubtedly played a significant and leading role in international diplomacy, not least in their work with France and Germany in relation to Iran.

Elsewhere, as others have said, South Africa renounced its illegal nuclear weapons programme, setting an important precedent a decade ago, and Libya's more recent disposal of its capability was a welcome step forward. Against those welcome developments, there are some real difficulties to consider. At the heart of the NPT is the tension between the five nuclear weapons states that wish to prevent proliferation in other states and, increasingly, non-state actors and the remaining 184 signatories that are willing to thole being outside the club on the understanding that real disarmament among the five will proceed.

Previous review conferences have experienced all the difficulties associated with that basic problem. In 2000, the conference eventually made some progress with the agreement to the so-called 13 steps. That highlighted, among other things, the need to bring the comprehensive test ban treaty into force, preserve the anti-ballistic missile treaty and adopt new verification procedures. The United States of America has rejected the first of those propositions and has withdrawn from the second, and we still await details of how the verification capabilities are to be enhanced. Meanwhile, states such as India, Pakistan and Israel continue to be weapons capable and are showing few signs of volunteering their systems for disarmament. North Korea taunts the world about its intentions, and Iran is engaged in a dangerous game of bluff.

Whatever historical perspective is taken on the possession and usefulness, or otherwise, of nuclear weapons, there can be no escape from the central deal at the heart of the NPT. The non-weapon states will allow the five nuclear states to possess their weapons on the basis of article VI, which demands the cessation of the arms race at an early date, and of a treaty on general and complete disarmament. Alongside that central issue are the security concerns, legitimate or otherwise, real or imagined, of those who possess or aspire to possess nuclear weapons; allusion has already been made to Iran. Equally, the nuclear weapon states themselves and others have a common interest in enhancing the verification procedures in order to ensure that non-state actors, as the jargon has them—international terrorists, as we might fear them—do not gain access to the technology and capability. The existence of A.Q. Khan's network suggests that we might be a bit off the pace, and real progress is needed on all sides at the conference to help us all catch up.

I hope that the Minister will tell us what he believes are the main features on the agenda at the conference. There is no doubt that we need to see some progress on the CTBT. We also need to see whether there is any prospect of a fissile material cut-off treaty. The welcome nuclear arms reductions of the early 1990s have been mentioned, and we need to ensure that they continue. We must also recognise that the anti-proliferation efforts of the United States and others will gain enhanced credibility if those countries are seen to participate in the whole nuclear disarmament process and not just in the bits that concern them most.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

If the hon. Gentleman would not mind, I would like to conclude my comments.

Alongside those issues, some serious institutional matters must be addressed; we see them day in, day out in the international press. The most important point, however, is surely that the political will exists to ensure that the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency and others is not undermined.

I have always believed in multilateral nuclear disarmament and I retain that view very strongly. My concern is growing, however, that the process is stalled. Without further progress on disarmament, we shall not only fail to achieve the ultimate objective of a nuclear-free world, but increase the risks of proliferation and fail to equip ourselves to verify the state of nuclear capabilities throughout the world. As a nuclear weapons state, this country bears a particular responsibility and must take a lead at the conference in re-establishing some momentum in the disarmament process. The stakes have rarely been higher.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:07 pm, 8th March 2005

I fear that my remarks will be interrupted by the Division bell, but before they are, let me join others in congratulating Jeremy Corbyn on securing the debate. He has been a doughty, consistent and passionate advocate of unilateral nuclear disarmament, although I, like my hon. Friend Dr. Lewis, would be just as passionate in disagreeing with his perspective. None the less, he has maintained a level of consistency of which he should be proud.

Given the Government's commitment to non-proliferation and the current active negotiations with Iran, which the Foreign Secretary is taking up with his German and French counterparts, the UK's participation in the review conference should be significant. The review is a real opportunity to test parties' commitment to the three pillars of the NPT—non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The geopolitical climate has changed immeasurably since the last review in 2000. We have seen the horrific events of 11 September in New York and the rise of international terrorism. We have seen the case for war in Iraq based on inaccurate intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. North Korea has withdrawn from the NPT and recently withdrawn from multilateral talks, subsequently claiming that it already has nuclear weapons. Iran appears to be misleading the IAEA and the international community over its apparently peaceful nuclear programme. Such events have underlined the importance of the non-proliferation treaty and of the IAEA continuing to work towards preventing nuclear proliferation and reducing nuclear arms throughout the world.

Unlike several hon. Members in the Chamber, Conservative Members are not anti-nuclear, and I recognise the many benefits that nuclear technology has given the world because of its ability to create large amounts of relatively clean energy. Like my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East, I recognise that nuclear weapons played an important strategic role during the cold war years. The mutual threat between the two relatively rational adversaries ensured that nuclear weapons were never used. The non-proliferation treaty has subsequently played an important role in gradually downsizing our nuclear arsenals and preventing other countries from building new weapons through the strategic arms reduction treaties and, more recently, the strategic offensive reductions treaty. Indeed, that fact was recognised by the hon. Member for Islington, North and Dr. Strang.

The hon. Member for Islington, North was right to say that countries without nuclear weapons have been concerned for some time that nuclear powers are not progressing under article VI to reduce nuclear arsenals, and that there is a resistance to disarmament, despite disarmament being a stated objective of the treaty. I am sure that some hon. Members in the Chamber today would argue that that is not so. Indeed, the United States, the Soviet Union and more recently Russia have worked very hard through various treaties to reduce their nuclear warheads to secure a satisfactory resolution of at least part of article VI of the original treaty.

We accept that, in a utopia, the globe would be free of nuclear weapons, but proliferation must be controlled, and reductions through bilateral treaties between the United States and Russia must continue before the UK commences disarmament discussions. That must happen only when the Government of whichever political party are convinced that our national security will not be undermined.

Unfortunately, the debate must take place against a threat posed by nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction that may be greater now than it has been for some considerable time. I was intrigued by the comments made by Tony Lloyd, who seemed to be arguing that the world is now a safer place than it was during the cold war.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

He is shaking his head, which I am pleased to see.

The danger came with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the transfer of nuclear technology and fissile materials. Rogue states and non-state actors—terrorists—can now obtain nuclear technology and fissile materials with the intention of holding the world to ransom.

Sadly, rogue states and non-state parties are not the only ones who pose a problem. Unfortunately, as has already been mentioned, India, Pakistan and Israel refuse to join the NPT, which has led to many difficulties in enforcing the regime. Israel's status as the only nuclear power in the middle east prevents that most dangerous area of the world from becoming a nuclear-free zone. Thankfully, the India-Pakistan situation appears to have stabilised in recent years, but there is always the possibility of a crisis developing. I want all three states to be encouraged to join the NPT to help them to join the international community in this area.

Furthermore, the activities of the Pakistani scientist Qadir Khan show that Pakistan's refusal to comply with the wider implications of the treaty has created a significant problem, which became clear when Libya's decision to dismantle the nuclear programme revealed a clandestine market in nuclear material. Although some states have refused to sign the NPT altogether, other states— Iran and North Korea are the two most obvious ones—used it as a cover for the development of nuclear weapons.

Although all signatories of the NPT are entitled to use nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, Iran's huge wealth of natural resources makes its large-scale nuclear programme cause for concern. Despite what the hon. Member for Islington, North says, Iran has continued to mislead the IAEA over its acquisition of centrifuge technology and enrichment, which, with modern-day technology, is not necessary for the pursuance of domestic nuclear capabilities. It also refused to allow nuclear inspectors to visit parts of a key military complex at Parchin only 10 days ago.

North Korea is another country that has flouted the NPT—indeed, it has withdrawn from it—since the previous review meeting. Mr. Savidge argued that the North Koreans have acquired a nuclear capability because of the threat of an invasion by the United States. I argue that that is not the case, evidenced by the fact that, again following Libya's welcome disarmament, it was clear that North Korea sold uranium hexafluoride to Libya for the enrichment of nuclear weapons.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way in a very interesting speech. I did not suggest for a minute that that was North Korea's sole purpose for acquiring a nuclear capability; I said that that might be an influence on such states.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am grateful for that clarification.

There are two main problems with North Korea. First, it is creating regional instability. The Minister will know of the domestic debate in Japan that questions whether is it right that Japan should be the only major power without nuclear weapons when North Korea has gone nuclear and South Korea wants to go nuclear. That political situation in Japan is causing great consternation. Secondly, rogue states with nuclear weapons and fissile material may provide nuclear weapons on the black market to non-state actors who could create dirty bombs and mayhem in many towns and cities throughout the world.

Clearly, some distinct factors need to be resolved at the review conference, which is to take place in May. The NPT needs to be strengthened to prevent the spread of technology and knowledge. Steps must be taken to secure military and civilian nuclear materials and technology in every country, including Britain, in order to avoid materials going missing. That is particularly appropriate for the ex-Soviet states.

A number of key areas need to be discussed and decisions must be taken. There is the issue of the comprehensive test ban treaty; can the Minister update us on his view of the position of the United States and China? There is the ban on the production of fissile material. Does that relate just to existing stockpiles, or only to future production? That subject was mentioned by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. Countries that withdraw from the NPT should immediately be referred to the United Nations Security Council.

Nuclear suppliers should consider limiting the supply of enrichment and reprocessing plants to those states that already possess them. We should discuss creating a special committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors that would focus intensively on safeguards to ensure that nations comply with their international obligations. We should consider allowing only those states that have signed the additional protocols to import civilian nuclear programmes.

We should discuss raising inspection programmes for additional protocols. Many states have signed up to the additional protocols, but have not yet ratified them. That includes significant players, such as Russia, Iran, Uganda, Niger and Mexico. It is clear that the technology for proliferating resistant nuclear energy systems exists. Enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful means. That technology must be shared and facilitated, and there must be verification to ensure that those who are genuinely trying to benefit from nuclear energy and to facilitate the provision of it for peaceful purposes do not transfer technology across for military means. There should also be discussion of the adoption of an additional protocol to ensure that states and parties are unable to divert fissile material to secret weapons programmes.

The 2005 conference needs to succeed. In an ever-more dangerous world, members of the responsible international community need to stand together—both those with nuclear weapons and those without. It was not anticipated that the previous review, in 2000, would be a success, but I give credit to the Government: through hard work and a willingness to take a strategic view and to compromise, they played a major role in ensuring that it was a success. Whatever political party is in government in May when the review takes place, Britain needs to play a full and constructive role in the meeting.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 3:18 pm, 8th March 2005

I welcome the debate, and thank my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn for initiating it. As others have said, he has a long and distinguished record of interest in this most important issue. We have seen a number of familiar faces today, and heard a number of familiar arguments, but they are no less interesting for having been heard before. As my hon. Friend said, these arguments are fundamental to the future of the human race, and it is right that we are debating this subject.

I believe that we have a good story to tell, as I think hon. Members on both sides have acknowledged. I shall try to set out a bit of it in a moment, but my hon. Friend asked one or two questions, so I shall try to deal quickly with those first. He asked about our policy towards Iran. It is well known that our policy is to continue engagement, along with two European Union Foreign Minister colleagues. In fairness, President Bush has said that he supports this approach.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 3:48 pm, 8th March 2005

My hon. Friend asked about our plans for replacing Trident. As I am sure he knows, no decision has yet been taken, but we are keeping our options open. A decision will need to be taken during the next Parliament. He asked what is going on at Aldermaston and whether it is consistent with the NPT. My advice is that what is happening is consistent with the treaty and that the modernisation of facilities at Aldermaston and the decommissioning of those no longer required, of which we have made no secret, is an ongoing programme of work to meet safety, regulatory and operational requirements. Were there to be significant developments, we would, of course, inform Parliament.

Mr. Simmonds asked about the comprehensive test ban treaty and the position of the United States and China. I do not speak for the Governments of the US or China, but I am not aware of any change in their position. We believe that they should both ratify.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime. We remain fully committed to the treaty and we participate actively in the review process. The treaty is strong; it has the widest membership of any arms control treaty and retains the wholehearted support of the United Kingdom and the majority of the international community. We want universal membership, although that may not be achievable in the current circumstances. We are also committed to strengthening the treaty to face new challenges.

Several hon. Members have asked what we want out of the review conference that will take place soon. The UK's main goal will be to emphasise the need for greater efforts in the non-proliferation and compliance parts of the treaty. Recent events have shown that a number of states continue to seek clandestine nuclear weapons programmes and also that individuals are willing to assist them in the proliferation of sensitive materials and technology. The treaty must therefore be strengthened and the political will generated to prevent such action.

The treaty remains at the core of our nuclear counter-proliferation policy. It has proved successful in limiting the number of countries deciding to develop nuclear weapons. It provides the essential underpinning to maintain international cohesion when addressing the challenges posed by Iran and North Korea, as it did recently in respect of Libya's nuclear programmes. It also serves to strengthen the controls on the transfer of sensitive technology, without which progress in the International Atomic Energy Agency and other forums would become more difficult.

During the review conference, we will outline the considerable progress that we had made on nuclear disarmament. It says in my briefing document that that was not often acknowledged, but the main Opposition party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour Members have acknowledged today that the UK's record on disarmament is good. The United Kingdom has made considerable progress on the 13 practical steps towards nuclear disarmament that were agreed at the previous review conference five years ago. For example, we are working on a programme to develop UK expertise in verifying the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons internationally. It is a three-part exercise, which sets out the methodologies for the verification of nuclear disarmament.

We will focus at the review conference on monitoring the nuclear warhead complex. We shall also summarise the range of technologies and approaches that have been researched during the five-year programme. The work will provide the basis for methodologies that could be used in a verification regime for a future disarmament treaty. We will publish a consolidated paper on that work at the conference. The United Kingdom remains fully committed to all aspects of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, including global and verifiable nuclear disarmament. We have a good record of fulfilling our NPT obligations on nuclear disarmament. Mr. Moore spelt out some of the measures that we have taken, but I shall describe them in slightly more detail.

We have withdrawn and dismantled the RAF's freefall bomb, so Trident is now our only nuclear weapons system. We dismantled the last Chevaline warhead in 2002. We have reduced our operationally available stockpile to fewer than 200 warheads, which is a reduction of more than 70 per cent. in the potential explosive power of our nuclear forces since the end of the cold war. We have reduced the readiness of our nuclear forces: only one Trident submarine is now on deterrent patrol; it carries 48 warheads. The submarine on patrol is usually on several days' notice to fire and its missiles are detargeted.

We have signed and ratified the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and continue to promote its early entry into force. We have placed fissile material no longer required for defence purposes under international safeguards. All enrichment and reprocessing facilities in the United Kingdom are now liable to international inspection. We have continued to press for negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. Indeed, we announced in 1995 that we had stopped the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.

We have been more transparent about our stockpiles of nuclear and fissile materials, and have begun a national historical accounting study for fissile material produced. We have signed and ratified the relevant protocols of both the treaty of Rarotonga, which is the south Pacific nuclear weapons-free zone, and the treaty of Pelindaba, the African nuclear weapon-free zone. We are also engaged in negotiations on nuclear weapon-free zones in central Asia and south-east Asia.

The Government's policy on nuclear weapons remains as set out in the 1998 strategic defence review and the 2003 defence White Paper. We are committed to working towards a safer world in which there is no requirement for nuclear weapons. We continue to play a full role in international efforts to strengthen arms control and prevent proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. However, the continuing risk from the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the certainty that a number of other countries will retain substantial nuclear arsenals means that our minimum nuclear deterrent capability, currently represented by Trident, is likely to remain a necessary element of our security for the foreseeable future. We continue to support multilateral negotiations towards mutual balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons worldwide. When we are satisfied that sufficient progress has been made to allow us to include British nuclear weapons in any negotiations without endangering our security interests, we shall do so.

It has been suggested that the non-signatory status of India, Pakistan and Israel fundamentally undermines the non-proliferation treaty. Those countries are not subject to all international non-proliferation norms. As has already been suggested, such a lack of control might, in the case of Pakistan, have contributed to the serious case of proliferation of nuclear technology through the A. Q. Khan network.

The UK continues to call on all non-signatory states to become signatories to the NPT, as non-nuclear weapon states. We are additionally pressing them to sign up to other agreements that control nuclear proliferation. We want them to join early negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty; we would like India and Pakistan to become party to the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, and Israel to ratify its accession to that treaty. We have been encouraging negotiations on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the middle east and look forward to the proposed conference on the issue in the near future.

We live in an uncertain world. The non-proliferation treaty faces challenges from states such as Iran and North Korea. We believe that the global community needs to strengthen the treaty by ensuring full compliance by such states. For our part, the UK is continuing to work in collaboration with the international community to ensure that Iran operates within its obligations under the treaty. We have also worked with the United States to secure Libya's agreement to renounce its clandestine nuclear weapons programme. Both of those efforts demonstrate our clear commitment to strengthening the non-proliferation regime. As part of the work, we also want to see a strengthened International Atomic Energy Agency. We are committed to spending up to £400 million over 10 years through the global partnership to help tackle the weapons legacy of the former Soviet Union. It is also intended that the work should be expanded to cover states such as Libya and Iraq.

I hope that those efforts, and others that time does not permit me to enumerate, demonstrate our commitment to building a secure and peaceful world, free from nuclear weapons. We are working towards creating a future in which the UK is secure enough to be able to disarm completely.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

In the advice that the Minister has been given, what is the legal position of Britain in developing a new generation of nuclear weapons within the terms of the NPT of 1970?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My advice is that it is permitted. However, I shall write to my hon. Friend with the details.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. May I ask all hon. Members who do not wish to stay for the next debate to leave quickly and quietly?