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The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, perhaps I may--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I am sorry. This matter arose the other day. I am afraid that the 20-minute period is mandatory. There is nothing that I can do about it.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I understand that the 20 minutes of Back-Bench time has now been completed. However, before the next business commences, will the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, follow the example set yesterday by his noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn? Will he write to noble Lords who asked questions which have been unanswered and make sure that those answers are in their hands before Tuesday and that copies are placed in the Library? That will be extremely helpful for the debate on Wednesday.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am happy to give a general undertaking of that nature. However, I have to make the reservation that I shall do my best to ensure that they are available by Tuesday night.

Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Bill [H.L.]

5.28 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty which bans any nuclear weapon test explosion and any other nuclear explosion. The United Kingdom is one of the states whose ratification is a precondition for the treaty's entry into force. I am confident that this measure is supported by all political parties and, I hope, is supported by all noble Lords.

The treaty is the culmination of nearly 40 years of effort involving difficult negotiations. The previous government signed it on 24th September 1996. The treaty is a significant step forward in non-proliferation and brings the world closer to the goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons. Indeed the parties to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty attached the greatest importance to the comprehensive test ban treaty when they agreed, in May, 1995, a document concerning Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. The United Kingdom is fully committed to these goals and is therefore working for entry into force of the treaty at the earliest possible date; 144 states have now signed the treaty and four have ratified.

As I have said, the treaty bans nuclear explosions. Each state party must forbid anyone on its territory and its citizens abroad from undertaking any nuclear explosions.

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The treaty establishes a number of new international bodies to ensure that its provisions are properly observed. First, there is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation which will be set up in Vienna once the treaty enters into force. This will co-operate as closely as possible with the International Atomic Energy Authority, also in Vienna, and other relevant organisations. Part of the treaty organisation will be a technical secretariat, which will be responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of the treaty. To this end, the treaty will set up an international monitoring system. This will consist of a worldwide network of monitoring stations at locations which were agreed following negotiations between scientific experts. (A number of these are in the United Kingdom and the dependent territories.) These stations will use various technologies to detect, identify and locate the source of a suspicious event anywhere in the world. The data from the stations will be transmitted to an international data centre, which will be part of the technical secretariat in Vienna. The international data centre will then make the information available to states parties.

The verification regime in the treaty provides for consultation and clarification in cases of indications of possible non-compliance. If necessary, and if a certain proportion of states parties agree, an "on-site inspection" can start within 96 hours of its being requested. These inspections will be carried out by trained inspectors chosen from an agreed international list of experts. They will report back to the technical secretariat and to states parties.

The United Kingdom has for many years had a national research programme into the means of detecting and verifying nuclear explosions. This programme enabled the United Kingdom to play a major role in the negotiations on how best to verify the treaty. We aim to retain a national capability to allow us to reach an independent judgment on the data produced by the international monitoring system. This will strengthen our ability to justify requests for an on-site inspection to investigate a suspicious event. We are considering how best to provide this capability on a long-term basis.

The treaty will come into force six months after 44 states named in an annex to the treaty have ratified it. These states all took part in the negotiations on the treaty in the conference on disarmament in 1996 and are listed by the International Atomic Energy Authority as having a civil nuclear capability. The United Kingdom is one of them. Forty-one of these have already signed. The remaining three are North Korea, Pakistan and India. We are doing what we can to encourage all three states, and indeed all non-signatories, to sign and ratify the treaty quickly.

In the meantime, a preparatory commission is working in Vienna to develop the many detailed arrangements for implementation, including the establishment of the international monitoring system. A provisional technical secretariat has been established and is being progressively built up. We do not want to lose any time once the treaty enters into force and the United Kingdom is playing an active part in the work that is under way.

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With the advent of the treaty, the implications of any changes or deterioration in our Trident warheads will now have to be assessed without nuclear testing. Similarly, after any corrective action or refurbishment we will have to requalify warheads as safe and reliable without nuclear testing. These requirements will place great demands on the alternatives to nuclear testing. We intend to use experiments and computer simulation for this purpose. Both are consistent with the terms of the treaty.

The treaty requires each state party to establish a national authority to act as the point of contact with the treaty organisation and to be the focal point for the operation of the treaty on its territory. In the United Kingdom, the national authority will be set up within the Ministry of Defence.

Notes on Clauses are now available in the Library of the House, but perhaps I may turn briefly to the provisions of the Bill. These fall into two broad categories: those relating to the prohibition of nuclear explosions and those enabling inspections to be carried out in the United Kingdom under the terms of the treaty.

Clauses 1 and 2 make it an offence, punishable by life imprisonment, to cause a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, other than a nuclear weapon explosion carried out in the course of an armed conflict. The offence can be committed in the United Kingdom by anyone. Abroad, the offence can be committed by United Kingdom nationals and corporations. No prosecution can be brought without the consent of the Attorney-General or the Lord Advocate.

Clauses 4 to 9 cover various aspects of inspections in the United Kingdom, such as their formal authorisation by the Secretary of State and the necessary privileges and immunities for the inspection teams. Clause 10 covers the issue of warrants authorising entry and search of premises, if offences are suspected. Clauses 11 to 15 contain various technical provisions but also provide for the Act to bind the Crown.

I hope I have explained the importance of the treaty and the United Kingdom's adherence to it. As I said at the beginning of my speech, both the treaty and the Bill should command the suport of the whole House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

5.37 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I would first like to agree with many of the views expressed by the Minister today and say on behalf of the Opposition how warmly I welcome the Bill to provide the legislation necessary for the ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. This is another milestone on the historic journey undertaken by the United Nations General Assembly last September when it voted overwhelmingly for a treaty banning all further nuclear weapons test explosions and all other nuclear explosions. I pay tribute to all those who steered the treaty negotiations last year, including the chairman of the talks, Ambassador Ramaker of the Netherlands, and also the Australian Government whose diplomatic skills ensured that the CTBT had the opportunity for UN endorsement.

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There is consensus on the overwhelming importance of this issue in your Lordships' House. Much hard work was done by my predecessors in government towards the signing of a universal, effective and verifiable treaty. We remain committed to early ratification to bring it into force as soon as possible.

Clearly, with the backing of the five declared nuclear powers, the CTBT is a major step towards non-proliferation. The very fact that the CTBT has been adopted will now make it difficult for any country to conduct nuclear test explosions in defiance of international opinion.

Nevertheless, the CTBT is not without its critics. To compound this, even though it has successfully established the framework for the banning of all further nuclear explosions, its future implementation and ultimate success remain vulnerably exposed to the dictates of international realpolitik.

Over the course of this Bill and beyond, the Government have the task of addressing some of the perceived international fundamental flaws in the treaty. I would welcome clarification from the Government on their policies to address the three broad areas highlighted by critics of the treaty; namely, ratification, the wider issues of disarmament and the lack of sincerity of purpose within the international community. I would equally welcome a statement of intent from the Government on how they will work to surmount those problems to achieve an effective treaty, signed by all and ratified by all, within the context of this Bill.

I take those issues one by one. The first is the question of ratification. I am grateful to the Minister for highlighting this in her introductory remarks. The CTBT will only come into force once the treaty has been ratified by all 44 countries which possess nuclear installations or weapons on their soil. That is proving elusive.

I should like to ask the Government, in the light of the ratification requirements, whether India's continued opposition to the CTBT will prove an insurmountable obstacle by effectively vetoing the treaty and preventing its universal effectiveness. If that is the case, what steps are being taken to persuade the Indian Government to review their position never to sign the current treaty? In the negotiations leading up to the CTBT, India had been looking to the treaty as a means for total disarmament, seeking to link a time frame for the five principal nuclear powers (the US, Russia, Britain, France and China) to eliminate all their weapons. Some more cynical observers have suggested that India's opposition was and is merely an attempt to stall the process until it has improved its own nuclear technology.

Furthermore, what assurances do the Government have from the United States that there will be Senate approval for ratification in the face of suggestions that ratification will obstruct necessary improvements in the United States nuclear arsenal and therefore may be delayed?

Although the treaty is so structured--by means of a clause allowing provisional application--that failure to ratify will not automatically scupper it, it is perceived

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that the cost of monitoring and inspection of nuclear testing will render that solution impracticable. If delays occur in the ratification process, what is the Government's plan of action to ensure that no one state or small group of states can render void the treaty? It is clear that for the treaty to be fully effective, it must become universal. What additional steps are the Government taking to urge all states to sign and ratify?

Secondly, some critics--most notably India--have expressed their disappointment that the CTBT has not been directly linked to the goal of nuclear disarmament. Such criticism has had a knock-on negative effect for so long as the Indian Government refuse to ratify it is likely that Pakistan will follow suit, in view of the mutual suspicion they share of one another.

Thirdly, it has been argued that failure to promote disarmament and to continue to allow sub-critical tests which use small quantities of high explosive charges mixed with pellets of nuclear material will only reinforce the view of an exclusive nuclear club which has no real desire to surrender its technological superiority.

On the issue of disarmament, I venture to say that nuclear disarmament cannot realistically be pursued independently of the broader security context. I should like clarification of the Government's position.

While the CTBT offers the tantalising prospect of a nuclear-free horizon, the surrounding waters remain troubled as we continue to face a world where nuclear weapons and political instability co-exist in a potentially volatile partnership. Defence and foreign affairs are more closely linked than ever before. The strategic threat to western Europe may have evaporated, but more localised, less coherent threats based on instability, unrest and ethnic and regional tension have taken its place.

While the threat of Soviet communism seeking world domination no longer exists, the challenges facing the international order remain daunting and in some ways are of a greater and more diverse magnitude. Political instability in Russia has on occasions appeared to push the democratic process to the brink of reversal while rekindling the flames of xenophobic nationalism. The political volatility of the Middle Eastern regimes, which sit on top of the majority of the world's oil supplies, threatens not only to undermine their own fragile existence but could also impact on the global context.

Similarly, rogue states such as Libya, Iran and North Korea seem to revel in their pariah status and are ever willing to defy international opinion and diplomacy. Those states in particular are suspected of having developed a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

In Iran, the international community is becoming increasingly perturbed by intelligence reports that Tehran's nuclear research programme is beginning to produce disturbing results. It is believed that foreign nuclear experts have been working at the Karaj nuclear research centre on the assembly of a cyclotron, an instrument used for enriching uranium to weapons-grade standard. Iran has publicly maintained that its nuclear ambitions are purely for civilian purposes--an argument that has been used elsewhere to justify decisions to

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complete nuclear energy plants, not least by Russia in Bushire and its agreement to supply Iran with nuclear reactors. Does the Minister have any observations on that question?

North Korea's missile technology may pose a greater threat in the short term to the international order. With the assistance of Iranian funding, North Korea has developed the Nodong ballistic missile which has a 700-mile range. Both Iran and Libya have already expressed their keen desire to acquire that technology.

The development of the technology raises the spectre of those missiles in North Korea reaching Japan, or, if based in Iran, falling on Israel. Whether North Korea possesses the technology to arm the missiles with nuclear warheads is still open to speculation. However, according to a report prepared by the North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop, the Stalinist state is ready to resort to war to deflect attention from its grim economic situation and,

    "is capable of scorching South Korea with nuclear weapons".

The Government's view of the position in North Korea would be of value to the House.

In a world of doubt and insecurity, nuclear weapons still provide for the major powers a sense of security and deterrence, an issue which has been much debated by noble Lords on both sides of the House. Although such reports as that of the Canberra Commission--which I know has been discussed in your Lordships' House--called for sensible measures such as negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty and the continuation of the American/Russian START process, its assumption that deterrence no longer has a role to play in today's world is in my view premature. I should therefore like an assurance from the Government that, in harmony with NATO, they judge that nuclear deterrence continues to play an essential role in maintaining peace and security.

Nor must we underestimate the potential danger of the highly accessible nature of nuclear technology today. Advances in technology mean one only has to surf the Internet to obtain the recipe for a nuclear cocktail. Anyone with a computer, a modem and a mission can download instructions (although not necessarily accurate ones) on "How to build an H-bomb" or "Making a bomb using plutonium from a power reactor". I quote from today. The recipes are quick to point out that the acquisition of the ingredients--weapons-grade uranium and plutonium--is no longer the sole preserve of national governments. Consequently, in light of the nuclear ambitions of nations such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea, it is hardly advisable to proscribe the nuclear club only to see a another one formed with less noble intentions vis-a-vis the international order.

In such a climate, the promotion of international peace and stability serves the interests not only of countries like the United Kingdom but the international community as a whole. I am sure that the Government will continue Britain's policy of taking an active and positive role and of leadership by example.

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It is unrealistic to believe that around the corner we will arrive at a zero-nuclear weapons situation in this world. The way forward is through internationally agreed treaties such as the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the CTBT. We must strengthen viable, verifiable and enforceable arms control agreements which are firmly grounded in international law and we must lead the way in setting standards of international behaviour.

Our actions should be designed both to stamp out the perception by some states that the acquisition of nuclear technology is commensurate with international prestige and to smoke out any cloak-and-dagger pariahs, while guaranteeing our own security. I welcome the comments that the Minister made in her opening remarks. It is that approach which will end the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons and lead us to our ultimate goal of a nuclear-free world where nuclear weapons, nuclear testing and nuclear arms races are historical fact, not present reality.

In conclusion, the CTBT is more than just a noble gesture in a nuclear world. The treaty represents a determined step in the right direction, seeking to restrict proliferation and ultimately facilitate disarmament. It is true that, irrespective of the treaty, states can still develop and deploy a basic nuclear capability without nuclear testing. But a sophisticated nuclear capability cannot be achieved without testing.

The Government have a vital task ahead, underlined by the Second Reading of the Bill, to navigate the most effective course through the pragmatism of today's international politics and to fulfil the aspirations of tomorrow's generation. In that objective we wish the Government well.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, let me first apologise to the Minister in that I was not in my place when she spoke at the Dispatch Box. I miscalculated the long-windedness of my Scottish colleagues.

I congratulate the Government on the speedy steps that they have taken so early in their period of office to enable ratification of the treaty through the passage of this Bill. I hope that the Bill itself will pass swiftly through Parliament so that final ratification can take place by Christmas. That might help greatly in the process of ratification in the American Senate and perhaps elsewhere among the signatories to the treaty.

I want to make one or two more general points, some of which have been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I believe that it is a good treaty but it has weaknesses. One major weakness is the provisions for entry into force of the treaty in, I believe, Article 14 and Annex 2 of the treaty. Those provisions are now there. We have to live with them and they are a challenge to the Government's diplomacy. But the provisions are far too rigid and I believe that they owe a good deal of their rigidity to the way the previous government dragged their feet in aspects of the negotiations. We are left with a situation in which all 44 nuclear-capable states have too sign before the treaty can come into general operation and the processes of verification and inspection and so on can operate effectively.

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As the Minister said, 41 of those states have already signed. But India has not signed and has said, on occasion, that it will never sign. It has sought to veto the negotiations in the conference on disarmament. I feel that the treaty to a great extent was rescued by the diplomacy of Australia at that stage. So long as India does not sign, Pakistan will not sign. There is also the special and in many ways rather menacing case of North Korea. Incidentally, it is curious that Iraq is not included at all in the treaty.

If the treaty does not come into force, it will lose a great deal of its authority and there will be a great deal of difficulty about financing the processes of verification. The Indian position has to be considered very carefully by Her Majesty's Government and indeed the other five nuclear states. I understand that India wanted a declaration of commitment to worldwide nuclear disarmament and also a commitment that the treaty should have as one of its objectives the ending of the qualitative improvement of the existing systems. In my view, both those objectives seem to have a good deal of force and close attention ought to be paid to them. In this field, I urge the government to give an important lead.

In practical terms, I agree that Britain's nuclear capacity must be part of our defence provisions. On this matter I probably disagree with the noble Lord who will follow me in this debate. There are ways in which we could give a lead in this field. One of them would be to say that we are ready to enter into a commitment not to seek qualitatively to improve our existing nuclear capacity. Perhaps more precisely, in the transfer from our Polaris system to the Trident system, we could give a commitment not to increase the number of warheads or even that we might decrease the number of warheads. In that way we could help create a climate that might influence those states which have not yet signed. Britain needs to work as closely as possible with France to press India, Pakistan and North Korea to join in support of this treaty. A great deal is at stake in having a truly effective CTBT. It is an essential part of a wider nuclear non-proliferation regime.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that it is at least arguable that the balance of nuclear terror in the cold war system concentrated on the Soviet bloc and the NATO alliance. It was, perhaps, marginally a safer situation for humanity than the one into which we have now moved--a situation of nuclear proliferation among many smaller states, including, to use the vivid phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, a number of rogue nations.

For those reasons, giving the treaty effective force is a very important aim to achieve. Britain should seek progress on nuclear disarmament more widely as part of its efforts to make sure that the provisions in the treaty for bringing it into force, for all their inadequacies, are met and the treaty may become a reality.

5.56 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I was not altogether surprised to find myself in large measure in

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agreement, if not wholly so, with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. However, I was rather more surprised to find myself agreeing with the preliminary part of what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said. Unhappily, he did not quite maintain that level. But it seemed to suggest that opposition suits the Conservative Party. I am rather tempted to wish them many long years in that capacity because I have discovered what I did not expect to find; namely, a capacity to learn. That is an excellent thing and I hope that it will be maintained.

Turning to my noble friend, I congratulate her and the Government most warmly on their decision to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. They do it equally comprehensively by introducing this Bill. When my noble friend comes to reply, I wonder whether she can tell us something about the likely date on which the statement of ratification will be made. I think I am right in saying that the passage of the Bill in itself simply enables the Government to ratify the treaty. I should like to know, as would the House, I am sure, whether ratification will immediately follow the conclusion of the Bill or whether there will be an intervening period. Perhaps my noble friend will tell us when she comes to wind up the debate.

Perhaps I may mention the failure of the House to see in the Bill an opportunity to move forward toward a non-nuclear decision. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, guessed that I might wish to say some such thing. It would be a remarkable feat, if we could bring it off. But what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, did not say--I am afraid it did not become the Conservative Government--was that they were responsible for the mess we are in about India. The normal practice in measures of this kind is that ratification--bringing into effect the consequences of the Bill--takes place when a number of states have signed. It was the then government's insistence that, instead of the usual practice, a number of specifically named states--seven I believe--should be required to ratify before we brought into effect the whole Bill. That virtually gave India a position in which they could operate a veto, if not on the ratification, on the bringing into effect of the Bill.

We must rely upon Labour's long and, for the most part, friendly, relationship with India to see what can be done to resolve the difficult impasse which has arisen from the position which India has taken up in this matter. No single country should be placed in that position. That is why in the past one always had the number of countries stated rather than naming countries, which in effect gives each one of those countries the power to nullify the desired effect of the Bill.

The change to which I referred is made more difficult. That action has had the effect I described. Perhaps we can offer India some assurances which will enable her to resile from the position that she has taken up. I believe my noble friend said in her introduction that she had hopes in that direction. Perhaps she can confirm that. We shall make every endeavour to find a solution to this impasse when we ourselves ratify.

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The treaty will be a good step forward, but only a step towards the elimination of the nuclear weapon. As your Lordships will know, that is not only the ambition of myself, but also of many other people, including the Canberra Commission to which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred. The Government can help by asking our defence spokesmen to make clear that elimination includes Trident and by making it clear that we will not test prior to the coming into force of the treaty. It is perfectly possible for us to say that we shall regard the treaty as being in force within our own ratification and other countries may join us in that so that we are not all brought to a complete halt by what I call the "Indian question"--the pre-nuclear question.

Discussions to remove the objections should be one of the aims of the Government. I believe I detected in my noble friend's opening remarks a hint that the Government will hold international discussions to see whether those problems can be resolved. The world is weary of living under the nuclear threat. Leading international military men have recently made it clear that they do not consider the threat of the mass destruction of humanity and its works to be a responsibility any soldier, sailor or airman should be required to carry. It is something that no generation of military men has been asked to do--that is, to use a weapon which could be so destructive as virtually to bring our own civilisation to an end.

As was originally said by Lord Mountbatten in the 1950s: this is not a weapon at all; we ought not to be asked to use it; it should be eliminated. That is a long time ago. I hope the measure that we have been discussing this evening will be a step towards that elimination.

6.5 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this brief debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. It is clear that the Bill enjoys the general support of all noble Lords who participated, but a number of specific points were raised and I shall do my best to cover most, if not all, of them.

A question was raised about the attitude of the United States and in particular what assurances we have received from the United States in relation to Senate approval. We are in close contact with the United States authorities and understand that they will begin their ratification process very soon.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was characteristically graceful in the way that he put his argument about the Bill. In particular, he raised a number of difficulties on ratification. It is perhaps worth gently pointing out that the difficulties over ratification are the difficulties inherent in the treaty, which was the same treaty he congratulated his noble friends on having negotiated. But there are important points to be resolved, as many noble Lords pointed out, in relation to ratification.

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