(HANSARD) in the third session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
FIFTH SERIESVOLUME DCLIX FIFTH VOLUME OF SESSION 200304 House of Lords
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, no. The materials were exported by the United States in accordance with export controls in place at the time. The United States did not believe that they would be used for anything other than legitimate research purposes and therefore did not knowingly export the materials to assist a biological weapons programme. There are therefore no grounds for reporting a breach of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have asked those questions myself. While I do not claim to have any particular expertise, I understand that the export of pathogens is the best way of producing vaccines. The Riegle report, which the right reverend Prelate has no doubt seen, details the quantities of various biological materials that were exported between 1985 and 1989. He will have noticed that those quantities were quite small. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention makes it clear that governments and states parties have the right to exchange equipment, materials, and scientific and technological information for peaceful purposes. The United States believed that to be the case at the time of those exports.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the Iraq Survey Group report came up with three suspicious findings. Two were the clandestine weapons laboratories that do not seem to be therethe Minister will respond to that through the ombudsman. The third was a phial of botulism. Will the Minister confirm that since the Americans supplied the botulismand we know that they didit is possible that the phial came from those pathogens supplied by the Americans?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord with any certainty about the origins of any particular substances that were found. I am not sure if there is a copy of the Riegle report in the Library of the House, but if there is not, I shall arrange for one to be placed there. As I have said to your Lordships, that report gives details of a whole range of different biological substances that were exported to Iraq at that time. Those substances were exported in very small amounts. It would have been legitimate to have exported pathogens because, as I understand it, it is easier to make vaccines from pathogens. Although it is possible to make them from non-pathogenic material, it is much easier to make them from pathogenic material. However, I doubt whether anybody will be able to say with any certainty what the origins of any particular phial have been.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a serious weakness in the efforts to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons is the lack of an international inspection system to underpin the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention? Will she say what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to persuade the US Administration to allow negotiations for such a system to be restarted?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord. We would like to see a proper verification process put in place under the convention. In terms of persuading the United States to take the same view as we do, we take the opportunities that are available to us to do exactly that. I myself have had meetings with the appropriate under-secretary in the United States State Department and have attempted to persuade him to that very point of view. Sadly, I have not so far been successful.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the 1994 Riegle report, which, as she has indicated, is very detailed and extensive. Does she agree that whether or not it proves that bacterial cultures were exported by the United States to Iraq at the timeI think that the United States authorities have denied or minimised such claimsit also shows that the Iraqi regime, even then, before and after the first Gulf War, was building up, or aiming to build up, a biological and chemical weapons capability, as well as a nuclear capability, on a considerable scale? If the weapons cannot be found today, there are clear indications that this could happen again. Will the Minister agree that it is vital to strengthen biological weapons conventions of the kind that can be enforced? It is vital, and justifiable, to be sure that Iraq never returns to being a threat to us all.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, I of course agree strongly with that view, which is why the United Kingdom Government are making efforts to strengthen the convention and to emphasise the importance of inspection within the convention. When the Riegle report was first published, it was pointed out that by the time of the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq had developed biological weapons. Its advanced and aggressive biological warfare programme was the most advanced in the Arab world. It was therefore clear that there was such a programme. The way to avoid that in the future is proper enforcement.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, may I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that Answer? Is he aware that I was just trying to save him from having two monuments to his folly? But he prefers to have two follies as a monument
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: Given the Government's record on the Scottish Parliament building and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor's own involvement in the Millennium Dome, how can anyone have any confidence in the costs that he has put forward as estimates for the building of the new Supreme Court? Given that he said that the costs of the building will be defrayed by charges to the users of justice, can the noble and learned Lord explain why it should be right for the users of the court to carry the risk that the costs of the court will, judging by past experience, most likely be exceeded twice, five times or even 10 times?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No, my Lords, I was not aware that the noble Lord was seeking to protect me from myself. As to his second point, yes, there have plainly been other occasions when costs have been greatly exceeded, but that is not a reason for the Government not to embark on a course that is otherwise right. Thirdly, in relation to ensuring that the costs are properly estimated, a very thorough process, including the Treasury's Green Book process, is being gone through in detail to ensure that there are proper costings.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that the fundamental objection for setting up the Supreme Court and removing the Appellate Committee from your Lordships' House is not for some of us a question of cost?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I recognise that there are other very considerable issues apart from costs. There is a real issue as to whether, as we contend, the constitutional arrangements should reflect the realitynamely, that when one is appointed to the final Court of Appeal, one should be appointed to a court, not to a legislature.
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