HC Deb 06 March 1996 vol 273 cc332-3
7. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on what date Her Majesty's Government first received reports relating to Iraqi nuclear weapons development programmes. [17263]

Mr. Rifkind

Although there had been suspicions for some years that Iraq had a programme for developing nuclear weapons, no evidence was found until the International Atomic Energy Agency's sixth inspection in Iraq in September 1991.

Mr. Flynn

Does the Secretary of State recall that, on 19 April 1990, when Saddam Hussein was known throughout the world to have three nuclear weapons programmes going, in answer to a question of mine to the present Chief Secretary to the Treasury that called for the IAEA to beef up its inspections of the nuclear weapons installations, I was told that inspections by the authority would not be increased and that, as Saddam Hussein had signed the non-proliferation treaty, the British Government had full confidence that he would abide by his international obligations and not develop nuclear weapons? Was that a misleading answer?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to check Hansard to identify the precise words that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary used. With regard to evidence about the nuclear weapons aspirations of Iraq, it is to the IAEA that one must look. It had made five previous inspections and been unable to find evidence. Only on its sixth inspection, in September 1991—some time after the exchange to which the hon. Gentleman refers—did it report that it had discovered evidence that supported the claims.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a major problem with attempts to discover and confirm whether such programmes existed—although there was plenty of good, hard evidence that they did—was that many of the programmes were farmed out to neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, which undertook quite a lot of technology and research that was subsequently transferred to Iraq, and North Korea, which provided the launch technology? Does not that help to confuse the issue and confirm that proliferation is, and has been, taking place?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. For obvious reasons, the Iraqi Government wished to conceal any indication of their true intent. We know that they sought to conceal their efforts in many ways. It is interesting to note that the international community discovered only a few months ago the extent of the Iraqi Government's biological weapons programme, which they concealed for several years—even following the Gulf war. That is an example of the means that the Iraqi Government employed in an attempt to deceive the world.

Mrs. Clwyd

As the United Nations special commission has now given the British Government the names of British companies that supply the components of chemical and biological weapons and that have assisted in the nuclear warfare programme, what action do the Government intend to take against those companies? Such companies have been prosecuted in the United States and in Germany, but no prosecutions have yet occurred in this country. What will the Government do about that situation?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Lady will accept that prosecutions can take place only if there is evidence of a company having broken the law. Prosecutions are normally brought if there is such evidence.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that Prime Minister Begin deactivated the Basra reactor in 1981? Should he not receive posthumous praise from the Foreign Office to compensate for the condemnation that he suffered then?

Mr. Rifkind

As I said earlier, we were suspicious of Iraq's true intentions for many years. I am not able to speculate about what hard evidence the Israeli Government may have had at that time. It is clear that they also had great suspicions but, if they had hard evidence, they did not share it with the rest of the world. It was inevitable, therefore, that their actions gave rise to criticism then.

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