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Mr. Wilson: Do the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Liberal Democrats oppose a sanctions regime that is directed against Iraq's capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Campbell: Not at all. I have been at pains to explain that the policy on Iraq must be containment supported by the credible threat of military action, and that sanctions should be directed against military or dual-use equipment. However, non-military sanctions are no longer justified. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), in his new capacity as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has already spent time in the middle east, taking account of opinion on those matters. I am sure that he recognises that considerable reservations about the current sanctions regime exist there.

Is Saddam still a threat? Of course he is. As Richard Butler acknowledges, he has continued to develop weapons of mass destruction in the years since the UN inspection team was forced to leave the country. He has certainly developed biological weapons, and recent evidence from German intelligence sources suggests that he has the capacity to develop nuclear weapons in three years. That underlines the threat that he poses and the overwhelming requirement to maintain an effective policy

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of containment. My policy would attract more support than the current arrangements, which cause anxieties about the broad-band, untargeted and relatively ineffective non-military sanctions.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, East, the Chairman of the Select Committee, referred to biological weapons. He pointed out that efforts have been under way in Geneva since 1995 to establish a protocol that would allow for verification provisions in the chemical weapons convention. Negotiators are supposed to complete their work in time for the next review of the convention at the end of the year. As recently as 19 February, the chairman of the negotiators warned that little time remained to reach the compromises necessary for a successful conclusion and a verification regime.

The United Kingdom is one of the three depository states for the convention. It is fair to say that we have an exemplary record in trying to achieve an effective protocol. It is imperative that the British Government use all their political influence to try to ensure a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations on the convention. Doubtless the Minister will be able to give the House some assessment of the likelihood of success.

Some people oppose a verification regime because they are anxious to prevent secrets in commercially lucrative biotechnology from becoming more widely available. However, the need for a verification regime for the most easily carried and concealed weapons of mass destruction is overwhelming.

The chemical weapons convention came into force in 1997. Since then, more than 850 inspections in 44 countries on more than 4,000 sites have occurred. The current budget for the technical secretariat for the chemical weapons convention is approximately $66 million. It has made a positive and successful start, but some ambiguity exists about a so-called "challenge inspection", when one state can call for the immediate inspection of a site in another state's territory. That procedure has not been tested, and there are doubts about whether the effectiveness of the convention can be assessed properly until that happens.

Any verification regime that is adopted for biological weapons will almost certainly be based on the chemical weapons convention regime. We must ensure that it avoids the ambiguity about the challenge inspection process. Several states--North Korea, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Libya--have not signed the chemical weapons convention. We must use all our political influence on at least some of those states to persuade them to become part of the non-proliferation regime.

Although some individuals take a different view, it is the common policy of all parties that the United Kingdom should maintain a nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future and that it should be based on the two principles of minimum deterrence and weapons of last resort.

It is worth while reminding ourselves occasionally of just how far the United Kingdom has proceeded in nuclear disarmament. We did not encourage or have any part in any programme for the modernisation of short-range weapons--the "Follow On To Lance" programme, as it was been described. However, it must be said that Baroness Thatcher was a pretty enthusiastic supporter of that suggestion, at least in the first instance.

We have abandoned nuclear depth charges and we have decommissioned free-fall nuclear bombs. Intermediate nuclear weapons--Cruise and Pershing, to which

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reference has been made--have gone from the UK. We have abandoned the proposal for a tactical air-to-surface missile, which would have had a nuclear warhead. All that has happened over the past 10 or 12 years. If, in the preceeding 10 or 12 years, those changes had been offered as a possible programme of nuclear disarmament for the UK, it would have been thought optimistic, to say the least. The number of nuclear warheads under this Government has been reduced to about 200, approximating to the number on the Polaris system that has been replaced.

That is all well and good, but we have obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. There is no question but that there were some difficulties in the review conference about the renewal of the treaty. One important step that allowed for renewal of the NPT was the fact that all five of the declared nuclear powers signed up in very robust language to a commitment leading ultimately to the elimination of nuclear weapons. I am not so naive as to think that that will happen over a very short time, but that commitment was important for the NPT. Its importance lies in a continuing obligation on the part of the five declared nuclear states, which are of course the five permanent members of the Security Council.

The United Kingdom has a great opportunity to lead the charge to implement that obligation. It is based on article 6 of the treaty, but it was reinfused and re-emphasised in the declaration that all five states made in New York last year. There is a substantial political opportunity for the UK, which this Government ought to take. I doubt very much that in the lifetimes of any of us we can eliminate nuclear weapons from the planet, but we can certainly go a long way towards making the planet a very much safer place for our children and grandchildren by a gradual decline in the extent to which states regard nuclear weapons as essential to their security.

3.52 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I want to refer to a couple of recommendations in the Foreign Affairs Committee report. I am a member of the Committee and happily signed the report. There is mention, as the Minister knows, of the proliferation of small arms. The use of small arms brings about much terror and repression in many parts of the world. I am referring to page 9 of the Government's response to the recommendation. I welcome their response because, among other things, it states:

I should like the Minister to comment on that candidacy. My research may be poor, but were we successful in recommending Sir Michael Weston for that position?

We need to examine other measures to curb the proliferation of small arms--the phrase used in the report. We need to look again at the European Union's code of conduct on arms exports, which is mentioned in the report that was published this week by the Quadripartite Committee--comprising the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees--entitled "Strategic Export Controls: Annual

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Report for 1999 and Parliamentary Prior Scrutiny". It recommends greater transparency in the code of conduct. I have long been a critic of the code because I think that I am right in saying that it is entirely voluntary and that no sanctions can be imposed by the EU on member states that ignore it.

The Government should take the report very seriously. It recommends:

I refer to that report because it impinges directly on the Foreign Affairs Committee report. I am a member of the Quadripartite Committee as well. Concern is also voiced in the Foreign Affairs Committee report about the proliferation of small arms. Applicant countries need to have it spelled out to them very clearly that they must conform to the code of conduct. That of course also means that the 15 member states must conform to it. I should like the code to be strengthened.

I listened closely to what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) had to say on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I welcome his generous tribute to those who have a principled objection to the British nuclear deterrent. I happen to be one of those who have never supported the British nuclear deterrent. I say that in the full knowledge that a goodly number of my constituents work across the water at the Clyde submarine base at Faslane and Coulport. They know my views on the issue.

The five nuclear weapons states cannot expect other nations that, unfortunately, are acquiring the capacity to build nuclear weapons to listen to their warnings about the dangers of proliferation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made some mention of that. Might not other nations say, "Put your own houses in order", given that the five have a massive amount of nuclear weaponry?

Nuclear submarines are a common sight on the lower Clyde and the firth of Clyde, and I have long argued that there should be a tough code of conduct to keep them well away from fishing vessels. I remind the Minister in that context of the sad sinking of the fishing vessel Antares. Skipper Jamie Russell, whom I knew, and his three crew members died when a nuclear submarine sailed straight into their demersal gear. None of the four men had a chance of escaping their terrible fate.

The code of conduct that has been introduced is working well. I am honorary president of the Clyde Fishermen's Association, and have not had any recent complaints about infringements of the code by submarines. However, I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that it is under regular review and that there are discussions with members of the Clyde Fishermens Association and others who fish in those traditional waters. I know that he and his officials would disagree with me, but I think that submarines should always be on the surface when steaming through traditional fishing grounds.

A principled abhorrence of British nuclear weapons was clearly shown by the people, including the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, who gathered at Faslane a few weeks ago to express their hostility to our nuclear fleet. Many ordinary, decent people joined in that event, but their presence was lost sight of because of the conduct of those two sun-tanned socialists, Tommy Sheridan MSP

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and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). Accusations were levelled at those two protesters over their theatrical behaviour--both were arrested on that day. I could not join the demonstration, but I assure the Minister that I would not have been arrested by the Strathclyde police. In fairness to those two, they have long held the view that our nuclear deterrent should be done away with.

If ever Her Majesty's Government chose to decommission those vessels, measures would have to be taken to provide alternative employment for my constituents and others who have long worked at the base. I know that the matter is not the Minister's responsibility, but I totally oppose the privatisation--that is what it is--of the essential repair and maintenance activities that that first-class work force have undertaken for many years. The Ministry of Defence should think again. Its officials and Ministers seem to believe that it is axiomatic that private management is always superior to that in the public sector. The Government should seriously consider the joint trade union response to the proposals for that partial privatisation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife mentioned the so-called national missile defence system. We all know that there is not a cat in hell's chance of the Bush Administration deploying such a system in their term of office. My right hon. Friend argued that more eloquently than me. It will be many years before it can be deployed.

I was keen for the report to recommend that the Government must take account of people's deep-seated concerns about the United Kingdom's involvement in the so-called national missile defence system. I have great sympathy with the reservations voiced by our European friends on this matter. When the report talks about our special relationship with the United States, it puts the term in inverted commas. I happen to think that this country and many others are client states of the American superpower. There is concern about such developments, which violate certain articles of the anti-ballistic missile treaty. We must take those serious concerns on board.

I believe that we have produced a reasonable report covering matters from small arms to the national missile defence system. I welcome some of the Government's responses to it, but they must do more on the European Union's code of conduct. It must be transparent, and there must be sanctions. The applicant countries must be told that the issue is important for many people throughout the world, and that they must conform to the code of conduct.

In contradistinction to what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said, I would like our deterrent to be done away with. One of the witnesses, an Australian professor, told the Committee, "You British are pouring money down a rat hole"--a typically Australian observation, if I may say so, as I told him at the time. However, he was voicing a genuine truth, and I would like our deterrent to be whittled down. That report and the one published this week deal with many other issues that the Government should take very seriously.

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4.5 pm

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