HC Deb 07 December 1999 vol 340 cc680-2
6. Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

What plans he has to encourage progress on the comprehensive test ban treaty and nuclear non-proliferation. [99948]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain)

We will continue to work with key countries to bring the CTBT into force as soon as possible and to promote the aims of nuclear non-proliferation.

Mr. Savidge

Does my hon. Friend share the view of the Prime Minister, President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder that nuclear proliferation remains the major threat to world safety as we move into the new millennium? Will Her Majesty's Government consider what further initiatives we can take to give fresh impetus to the whole process of confidence-building measures and of disarmament?

Mr. Hain

Of course I agree with the Prime Minister. To answer my hon. Friend's question seriously, we are concerned to make rapid progress on nuclear disarmament; we are working hard to reach agreement on a fissile material cut-off treaty, to bring the comprehensive test ban treaty into force and to encourage many other countries to sign up to it and ratify it, as we have done. We want to see progress in other matters, especially in the run-up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference in New York next spring.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Is it not a matter of profound concern and disappointment that the United States Senate recently refused to ratify the test ban treaty? Is not that disappointment and concern underlined by proposals in Washington to depart from the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972? In the light of those policy developments in Washington, what is the Minister's assessment of the likelihood of persuading India and Pakistan to accept the terms of the test ban treaty?

Mr. Hain

I share—as indeed does President Clinton— the frustration at Capitol Hill's refusal, by a narrow vote in the Senate, to support the comprehensive test ban treaty. That was a grievous blow to the objectives of the treaty—I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, like the Government, wants them to be implemented. However, it is significant that the Administration in Washington has managed to put through their payment to the comprehensive test ban treaty organisation this year. That is a sign of where they stand. The Washington Administration are also committed to negotiate over national missile defence systems—if they decide to proceed with that programme—with the Russians and others, so that would not injure the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley)

Does my hon. Friend share my concern as to the likely success of the comprehensive test ban treaty, given the allegation in today's newspapers about the alleged breach of the land mines convention? Should not breaches of that convention, and of the comprehensive test ban treaty—if such breaches are successful—give us grave cause for concern?

Mr. Hain

I am most concerned about the failure of Pakistan and India to sign up to the comprehensive test ban treaty—I think that is what my hon. Friend was referring to. I am also concerned about the reports that a Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme alleges that criminal offences may have been committed under the Landmines Act 1998, and identifies an official at the Pakistani high commission. I view those allegations extremely seriously. The Foreign Office referred the matter immediately to Customs and Excise. This morning, I summoned the Pakistani high commissioner and explained to him the seriousness of the allegations.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

I follow the excellent question of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) by drawing to the Minister's attention the fact that, in the past, treaties which we thought that everyone had signed in good faith—I refer in particular to the 1972 biological weapons convention—were subsequently systematically flouted, by the former Soviet Union in the case of the 1972 treaty. When the Minister makes statements as to the desirability of strengthening non-proliferation, will he be cautious about referring to a nuclear-free world as the eventual outcome? We must always bear in mind that, desirable though treaties are, people can always cheat on them afterwards.

Mr. Hain

Of course.

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