HC Deb 16 February 1999 vol 325 cc713-5
1. Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

If he will make a statement about progress towards achieving the elimination of chemical and biological weapons. [69420]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

Chemical and biological weapons are banned under their respective conventions. We continue to work for universal accession to both conventions and are playing a leading role in negotiations on a protocol to strengthen the biological weapons convention. We are working hard to ensure effective global implementation of the chemical weapons convention. It is our ambition to prevent proliferation and help rid the world of those weapons of mass destruction.

Laura Moffatt

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and congratulate the Government on their stand, particularly on the convention on chemical weapons. Does he agree with me and with the Defence Select Committee that it is crucial that, under the chemical weapons convention, we continue to encourage countries to lay open their pharmaceutical industry for inspection, to ensure that all countries—including, of course, Iraq—are aware of exactly what is being produced?

Mr. Lloyd

Unfortunately, Iraq is not a state party to the chemical weapons convention—which gives us a problem, and is why more direct action to degrade Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capability was necessary in recent weeks. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is right to say that, if we are to rid the world of those weapons, we need not only processes to prevent the export of relevant technologies, but systems of verification and of challenge inspections, to ensure that those who want to flout the convention are brought to book.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Does the Minister think that it would be appropriate to send international inspectors to Sudan to check whether the factory that was bombed by the United States was making weapons of mass destruction, or aspirins?

Mr. Lloyd

Obviously that is a question for the Government of Sudan. Undoubtedly, it would help enormously if Sudan were to join as party to the chemical weapons convention and—were it so to do—specifically to accept the regime of challenge inspections and verification. That would put the matter beyond all doubt.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

Why is it a matter for the Government of Sudan? The United States Government launched a devastating blitzkrieg of cruise missiles on a pharmaceuticals factory on the basis of evidence that Kroll Associates—the respected New York investigators—in a report this week, said was "totally wrong". Will the Minister now say publicly, in the interests of proving that we have an independent foreign policy, what I know to be the Foreign Office's private view—that the attack on Sudan was a terrible, ghastly mistake?

Mr. Lloyd

The United States Government's public position, which my hon. Friend knows very well, is to hold to the view that the factory was being used for the production of chemical weapons. I simply repeat what I said to the House: the way for Sudan to move forward in the matter is to adhere to the chemical weapons convention, and to accept the verification procedures and challenge inspections.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

The Minister and I can agree that a fundamental objective of foreign policy must be the elimination of chemical and biological weapons. However, we must not forget the accompanying technology and delivery systems. Will the Minister confirm the alarming reports that Russia is not only supplying technology illegally to Iraq, but has plans to provide Syria with a ballistic missile capability, and has thousands of Russians working on the development of Iran's nuclear, chemical and biological programmes? Does he agree that the Russians' actions dramatically escalate security risks in the region? Will he tell the House what he is doing, either directly with Russia or at the United Nations, to discourage Russia from rearming Iraq and increasing tensions in the middle east?

Mr. Lloyd

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov has categorically denied those stories, which is important. We always treat with concern any stories—from whatever source—about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Within those terms, the matter has been raised with the Russians. I can repeat what I said: we have no evidence to suggest that there is any truth in the stories. I should tell the House—although I am sorry to have to raise a political note—that the previous Conservative Government were prepared to arm the Iraqi Government and Saddam Hussein. In so doing, they were prepared to breach any concept of international law, and they dictated who built weapons of mass destruction.

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