HC Deb 15 March 2001 vol 364 cc1229-82

Considered in relation to weapons of mass destruction, pursuant to Resolution [14 March]

[Relevant documents: Eighth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1999–2000, on Weapons of Mass Destruction, HC 407, and the Government's Response thereto, Cm 4884]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That resources, not exceeding £410,620,000, be authorised, on account, for use during the year ending on 31st March 2002, and that a sum, not exceeding £508,690,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, for the year ending on 31st March 2002 for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

3 pm

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I am grateful for the opportunity to open this debate, which is based on the report on weapons of mass destruction published by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in August 2000. I am pleased to say that it is a unanimous report. I am very grateful to my colleagues on the Committee for the dedication, diligence and teamwork that went into producing it.

The inquiry was wide ranging, covering national missile defence, the major nuclear treaties, conventions on chemical and biological weapons and control regimes. We took evidence from academics and the Foreign Secretary, and received a vast amount of written evidence from a wide variety of sources. We visited the disarmament conference in Geneva, the United Nations in New York and our American counterparts in Washington, and we drew on the experience of our specialist advisers, to whom I pay tribute. We also had in mind the fact that the subject had previously been tackled by the Committee in the 1994–95 Session.

The inquiry was timely, partly because of the plans for national missile defence, which were being considered by President Clinton. In addition, there were new Presidents in the Russian Federation and the United States and various review conferences were approaching, such as the conference on biological and toxin weapons this year and the non-proliferation treaty conference in 2005.

Arms control is not in the headlines as much as it was during the cold war in the 1970s and 1980s—indeed, our visit to Geneva was extremely depressing, as the conference has not been able even to agree an agenda—yet the subject is of vital interest to the future of mankind. The threats are now of a different nature. The regional threats between India and Pakistan, the middle east—including Iran and Iraq—and North Korea are a concern. Most worrying is the new scale of threats from terrorists and other non-state parties. I think in particular of the 1995 sarin attack in Tokyo. We were all alarmed by the Foreign Office statement, which said:

100 kilograms of anthrax released from the top of a tall building in a densely populated area could kill up to 3 million people. How should we respond to such new threats? The Committee believed that various methods might be effective, such as diplomatic persuasion, arms control, deterrence and other defensive measures. Unfortunately, the situation is not encouraging, in part because of the rejection by the United States Senate of the comprehensive test ban treaty, CTBT, the failure to start negotiations on the fissile material cut-off treaty, FMCT and the poor state of bilateral nuclear arms control efforts between the Russian Federation and the United States.

It is not my task to summarise the whole report, which I commend to the House. Instead, I shall single out key recommendations. The Government should make renewed efforts to break the deadlock on the FMCT negotiations, which have yet to start in Geneva, and should urge the United States President to resubmit the CTBT to the Senate. They should use their position in the G8 and the European Union to accelerate progress in helping the Russian Government to dispose of their surplus nuclear materials.

The key tests for the chemical weapons convention will be whether it can effectively tackle states and parties who are possibly cheating. We highlighted the delays in the implementation of the inspection regime and recommended that the Government urge the United States Government to reseind their power of presidential veto over challenge inspections. We noted that the biological and toxin weapons convention, which entered into force in 1975, did not include a verification process, which severely undermines its credibility. Again, the United States argued for the right to refuse intrusive inspections on grounds of commercial confidentiality. We urge the Government to impress on the United States that a strong verification procedure is a viable goal, and to exert maximum efforts to that end.

Progress on the non-proliferation treaty was slightly more encouraging because of the 2000 review conference and the joint statement by the five nuclear weapons states in which they pledge an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals". We welcomed that, but it remains to be seen whether that declared aspiration will mean much in practice.

Understandably, the greater part of the substantial press comment on our report related to national missile defence, on which President Clinton set out four criteria: assessments of the threat; the arms control and strategic environment; the cost; and the technical assessment. The Committee questioned whether national missile defence, as it was then called, was necessarily the most appropriate and effective response. We learned that the threat of rogue states—later to be called states of concern—was exaggerated and hyped. Some people claimed that there were commercial pressures; others referred to the failure of the United States to recognise the positive changes in, for example, the Korean peninsula.

We learned that the NMD could be destabilising, in particular because of the threat to the anti-ballistic missile treaty and our relations with Russia and China, and of the danger of undermining arrangements that are based on mutually assured destruction. There were doubts about technical feasibility because of the failure of tests and questions such as whether the missiles could easily be countered by measures such as decoys. In addition, the temptation towards unilateralism might give the United States a false sense of security.

The Committee asked whether the additional security that NMD offers outweighs the negative impact of its deployment on strategic arms control. We were aware that it poses acute dilemmas for the United Kingdom. To refuse a request by the United States for the use or upgrading of Fylingdales would have profound consequences for relations between this country and the United States. We therefore recommended that the Government articulate the strong concerns about NMD in the UK; that they encourage the United States to seek other ways in which to reduce the perceived threats; and that they impress on the United States that it cannot necessarily assume unqualified UK co-operation in the event of its unilaterally abrogating the ABM treaty.

A number of significant changes have taken place since we published our report. I must emphasise that from now on I shall give personal views, based, I hope, on what the Committee would broadly wish me to say. I cannot give its opinions because it has not had the chance to reconsider the issues. There have been serious developments—especially with the advent of President Bush—that have implications for NMD. I still have profound doubts that it is the most appropriate and effective response to the clear threats that exist. It is preferable to address those by building strong international non-proliferation regimes by giving economic, political and military incentives to dissuade countries from developing missiles. However, the signals that we are receiving from the new Administration indicate that they are determined to go ahead. There appears to be strong consensus in the Administration and across parties in Congress. The Administration's position is, perhaps, indicated by the choice of Donald Rumsfeld, with his background, as Secretary of Defence.

If that is so, we in the UK and Europe have two options: to protest or to engage in dialogue with the new Administration. We have to consider which will give us greater leverage. Simple criticism of the desire of the United States to defend itself against threats will be wholly counterproductive. The starting point is that the US is a key friend and ally of this country. It is of the utmost importance that our relationship should be a key priority and that it should be preserved. Nevertheless, friendship involves honest assessments and a willingness to point out the dangers. As a start, we must propose a joint threat assessment by our Government and that of the US relating to the ballistic missile threat from rogue states.

There are a number of serious questions to be raised at this stage.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

I intervene at this point only because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, he is going beyond the debates that we had in the Select Committee. On threat assessment, does he agree that one of the major problems that we discovered in our discussions with American representatives is that although they have an extremely effective means of assessing the capability of rogue states to launch a pre-emptive strike on America, they have very little ability to evaluate their intent to do so? In that regard, does he agree that it is essential for us to have a rational, sane analysis of the threat, not the capability?

Mr. Anderson

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman, who made a distinguished contribution to the Committee. Such a distinction is of the utmost importance and might assist in the joint technical assessment by ourselves and the US that I suggested.

The questions that I hope will provide a platform for the debate concern the uncertainties surrounding the form of national missile defence envisaged by the Bush Administration. Will it be on the same lines as that of the Clinton Administration? Will President Clinton's four criteria still apply? The Bush Administration have already dropped the word "national" and are emphasising, perhaps for marketing reasons, that the dangers posed by an unintended missile launch will have to be considered.

The Bush Administration's review began in mid-February. The outcome is not yet known, but from early indications it may confidently be said that the President would prefer a more robust defence system than the one outlined by his predecessor, which could include sea and space-based components. If so, we need to examine those matters very carefully. Certainly a sea-based system would not be cheap; nor would it be quick. According to the Pentagon's most recent judgment, if the process were accelerated, an initial deployment could be made in the financial year 2011, but otherwise not before 2014, with possible full deployment in 2020. During those 19 or 20 years the international landscape could change dramatically. A sea-based system would be technologically very challenging.

It has been suggested that there might be concentration on the boost phase. The desire for multiple opportunities to intercept attacking missiles is understandable, but defence experts have highlighted a key concern about the boost phase—the shortage of time available to make an informed decision. Such a system would depend on an instantaneous automatic reaction. The decision would, in effect, be made by computers rather than humans, and there would be the potential for serious accidents and misunderstandings to arise, with terrifying consequences.

What should now be the UK's response? I recommend the International Security Information Service briefing published this month, called "National Missile Defence: The Role of RAF Fylingdales and Menwith Hill" by Dr. David Wright. The Committee emphasised some of the dilemmas that we in the UK would face in making a decision on NMD and Fylingdales as well as our traditional role as a perceived bridge between the United States and our partners in Europe. Of course, European countries have shown greater scepticism about the whole concept than have our Government. It would be unwise to make a firm decision about NMD until we have a clear outline of the new Administration's plans, so we should await the outcome of their review.

What exactly would be expected of Fylingdales? It is likely that it would still have a key role unless the United States decided to rely entirely on a boost phase interception. Would Europe definitely be under the umbrella? Would Russia be included? There is, of course, still no proof that such a system would work. We remind ourselves that even the more limited Clinton project largely failed each of the tests, with only one test being a partial success. At the end of the day, the UK will have to weigh up the options and decide what is in our best interests. Will NMD increase our security or put us at greater risk?

I also pose the basic question of what would be the impact of NMD on strategic stability, particularly if the new Bush Administration included extensive land and/or sea-based systems and if they were deployed without Russian or Chinese agreement, which would abrogate the ABM treaty. That has to be given the highest priority because it has potentially disastrous consequences. The Select Committee outlined its fears. Last week, China announced an 18 per cent. increase in defence spending in response to drastic changes in the world security situation, focusing particularly on Taiwan. I noticed that today's Financial Times contained a suggestion that even the Chinese Government may be moderating their position.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The right hon. Gentleman is making a most important point. The People's Republic of China is augmenting its defence spending at a time when there is no perceptible threat to it whatever. Will he speculate why China should be making that potentially aggressive increase in weapons of mass destruction? As China has not participated in the non-proliferation treaty or other treaties to limit the spread of such weapons, is that not a grave development, especially in view of the potential conflict over Taiwan?

Mr. Anderson

It is a grave development partly because of a potential spill-over into theatre missile defence and the perceived effects on Taiwan and partly because of the Chinese criticism of the hegemony of the United States in what is now a single-superpower world. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the article in the Financial Times, which makes it clear that China may conceivably be moderating its position in the light of the forthcoming visit to the United States of a senior Chinese official.

Russia is of course deeply concerned about some of the apparent attitudes in the United States Administration to the acutely sensitive issue of the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972. There are two points to make about that. First, officials in the United States Administration have claimed that the ABM is ancient history. That is certainly not true. Although some claim that because the Soviet Union is no more, its treaty obligations no longer exist, the Russian Federation has, in international law, stepped into the shoes of and assumed the obligations of the old USSR. Secondly, last month, the American Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, said that he believed that Russian objections to NMD were "not really serious". That is a highly dangerous suggestion. The big question is whether the Russians are adopting an absolutist rejection of NMD or whether they are in a negotiating position. We must ask whether they are trying to gain access to American technology, which the US would be unwilling to give. What Colonel General Ivashov said on 12 March in relation to national missile defence is highly worrying.

There is real danger of an escalating arms response, as we have seen with the Chinese response of a potential increase in intercontinental ballistic missiles. There is also danger to the whole system of arms control, which would unravel. The Financial Times stated last week: Washington must think long and hard about the direct and the indirect consequences of its missile defence plans". The litmus test is surely whether the end result will be enhanced or increased instability.

In my judgment, there is no topic in foreign policy of greater importance than weapons of mass destruction. I hope that our report will be seen as an important contribution to the public debate; it certainly received extensive and largely positive press coverage. The role of the Foreign Affairs Committee is to monitor the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Where appropriate, we have been highly critical of it. In this area, however, the United Kingdom has a record of which to be proud. Mr. Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary General for disarmament affairs at the United Nations, said Britain's leadership in the fields of disarmament and non-proliferation has been impressive indeed. Mr. Dhanapala commended the United Kingdom on leading by example.

In this highly dangerous world, there is still no room for complacency, however. In 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, the then Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, said: We were eyeball to eyeball and the other fellow just blinked". That is how close we were; we hope that we never get that close again. Whether we can avoid that will depend to a large extent on the decisions that we make now about how to control those deadly weapons of mass destruction. That is our responsibility at the start of the 21st century. The stakes are high. On behalf of the Committee, I look forward to hearing colleagues' views on this most vital of subjects.

3.22 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

The report is extremely good and comprehensive. There is little in it with which I disagree, save perhaps in relation to the assertion of the Foreign Affairs Committee that any question of the relaxation of sanctions against Iraq must be conditional on Saddam Hussein allowing the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission to have access to sites where weapons of mass destruction may be being manufactured. I shall come back to that in due course.

I have two initial reservations about the report, the first of which relates to the opening paragraph of the elegant memorandum submitted to the Select Committee by Sir Michael Quinlan, a most sagacious and experienced commentator in these areas. He said that the use of the expression "weapons of mass destruction" lumps together weapons that differ widely in key respects and so need markedly different policy handling. My second reservation, which has been freely acknowledged by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), is the fact that, since 25 July 2000, a great deal has changed. One may be critical of the fact that it has taken nine months to secure an opportunity to debate the report, but that may reflect the fact that the risk to the United Kingdom from weapons of mass destruction is probably rather lower than it has been at any time during the last 25 or 30 years, or even going back to 1945.

The national missile defence debate has moved on, not least because of he change of Administration in Washington. I still believe that the current proposal is unwise and proceeds on a flawed assessment of threat, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) said a moment ago. The traditional definition of threat involves analysing capability and intention. It is reasonable to assume that there is a risk that capability will be acquired by certain states. However, even if it were, would those states use weapons of mass destruction in the certain knowledge that the likely response would be overwhelming and catastrophic?

I observe that the "states of concern" under the Clinton Administration have become "rogue states" again. There is some importance in language of that kind. I freely confess that my view is half-developed, but it bears further examination. If one treats a state like a rogue state, it is more likely to behave like one. It is true that some regimes are intransigent, some cheat and some enter into agreements with no real intention of keeping them. However, we must recognise that improved intelligence gathering makes deception, at least in the nuclear arena, more difficult. Weapons tests and missile launches are now easily detected.

I am concerned that describing states as rogue states and treating them as such means that political change is unlikely to be encouraged. Of the four so-called rogue states that bulk substantially in the minds of policy makers in the United States, with the exception of Iraq, the other three—North Korea, Iran and Libya—are all states in which there has been, or is, contemplation of political change. If they are lumped together in a single category and described in a deprecatory way, we may inhibit the very political change that would make safer our lives and those of people in those countries.

Many people hoped that the election of a new Administration in the United States would create an opportunity to reinvigorate the multilateral processes that control the means and opportunities for the development, use and testing of weapons of mass destruction. To use a colloquialism, the jury is out on that However, there are signs that the new American Administration and Congress favour a unilateral approach to strategic issues. We all remember the Senate's failure to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. Taking that decision together with the apparent determination to press ahead with a system of ballistic missile defence, it is not too difficult to identify a trend.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

With reference to the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making, it is worth pointing out that, on 3 February, Mr. Rumsfeld said: let me be clear to our friends here in Europe: we will consult with you. The United States has no interest in deploying defences that would separate us from our friends and allies.

Mr. Campbell

I was in Munich, and attended the conference at which Mr. Rumsfeld spoke. With all due respect, the hon. Gentleman may have taken that paragraph out of context. It was clear from the contribution of Mr. Rumsfeld and other Americans at the conference that the Administration are determined to proceed with national missile defence. There may be an acknowledgement of the need to consult, but if the consultation continues to reveal opposition there is no suggestion that effect will be given to that opposition.

The comprehensive test ban treaty was signed on the understanding that it could be adequately verified and existing stockpiles safely maintained. I am one of those who believe that the outlawing of nuclear testing worldwide is vital. I believe, too, that a continuing United States refusal to ratify the treaty makes it easier for other countries to deny any responsibility to do so. I have in mind, in particular, the cases of India and Pakistan.

It is inevitable in a debate such as this that one must focus on the United States as the last great military superpower. The United States shows an unwillingness to endorse the International Criminal Court, and a reticence to accept the ban on the deployment of anti-personnel land mines—a topic that was dealt with to some extent by the Committee in its report.

I have always thought that there is a risk in unilateralism. I thought that there was a considerable risk in unilateralism throughout the debate about whether the United Kingdom should maintain its own nuclear deterrent. The unilateral approach can be seductive. Treaty negotiation and adherence to the terms of treaties can be a restraint on freedom of action; treaties are cumbersome and sometimes messy. The agreements that they embody are not always satisfactory, but if the major military superpower moves increasingly towards a unilateral approach to the matters under discussion, that will make the maintenance of a collective—a multilateral—regime to deal with those matters extremely difficult.

One of the lessons learned from the cold war was that collective action is essential to success. In the new post-cold war environment, the best way to ensure security is by collective action through NATO, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the European Union, and through arms agreements that are universally subscribed to. Just as unilateralism was rejected, by some of us at least, during the cold war, so it should be rejected now.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

Arms control agreements not only control proliferation, but ensure predictability. If predictability were a word to describe any hon. Member, it would certainly describe the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). I can almost guess the question that he wants to put, but so that my curiosity may properly be satisfied, I shall give way to him.

Dr. Lewis

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. He is right that my remarks on this subject are predictable, because, unlike his party, I consistently supported the British nuclear deterrent and NATO's policy of nuclear deterrence during the cold war. Will he explain why Liberal Democrats were in the forefront of the unilateral disarmament movement? I will be happy to quote the Liberal Democrats chapter and verse from the 1980s. Why, in October 1983, at the largest ever CND demonstration against the vital deployment of cruise missiles, was one of the star speakers on the platform the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown), who went on to lead the Liberal Democrats?

Mr. Campbell

I was right, and I suppose I was wrong, as well. If we are to go back to 1983, those were the days when the Conservative and Unionist party in Scotland was advocating the merits of something that came to be called the poll tax. One thing is certain. When it comes to defending the interests of the people of the United Kingdom, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) has put himself and his own life at risk on rather more occasions than many, many hon. Members who now see fit to criticise him.

It is quite wrong to say that the Liberal party ever espoused the cause of unilateralism. There is no resolution of our party that ever did so. It is certainly true that, along with many others, there were people in the Liberal party drawn from the traditional nonconformist and Quaker tradition, which has always been part of our party, who said that as a matter of religious belief they did not consider that nuclear weapons ought to be maintained by the United Kingdom or that their use should ever be contemplated. A party that is wide enough to embrace people of such sincere religious conviction has nothing to answer for to the hon. Gentleman, who was, in his earlier existence, the witch-finder general of the old Conservative party, which perhaps explains his enthusiasm for these matters.

Dr. Lewis

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I shall give way once more, as I may have my curiosity satisfied again.

Dr. Lewis

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I know that the record of his party is such that he is strongly tempted to rewrite it. It is an historical fact that at the crucial time about which he was speaking—the crucial period when decisions were taken whether to employ cruise missiles and to replace Polaris with Trident—his own party leader repeatedly and publicly called Trident a white elephant and said that it should not be deployed, and repeatedly said that cruise missiles were the missiles that we had to stop. That was his leader's and his party's position. It is astonishing and deplorable that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot face up to that, but harks back to something like the council tax, about which we Conservatives admit we were wrong. Will he not admit that he, his leader and his party were wrong about unilateralism in the 1980s, for that is what they were?

Mr. Campbell

This is a pretty arid discussion. The views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil are on record and he has defended them on many occasions. I do not think that anyone like him, who served his country with great bravery and put his own life at risk many times, has anything to answer to the hon. Member for New Forest, East for.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

Not at the moment.

With regard to my party, it is quite wrong to say that the Liberal party or the Liberal Democrats ever espoused a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. It is right to say that there were members of our party—indeed, there are still some—who, out of sincere religious conviction, believe that nuclear weapons should not be tolerated. That is something for them to be proud of. Our party is sufficiently wide to embrace that nonconformist and Quaker tradition from the 19th century and allow it to flourish in the 21st century, without feeling any embarrassment whatever as regards the hon. Member for New Forest, East.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one does not have to be a Quaker to be worried about any weapons that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) is so enthusiastic about?

Mr. Campbell

The Minister makes his point, and no doubt he will have an opportunity to expand on it in due course.

The debate has echoes of the period immediately before the 1992 general election, when we had a debate about nuclear policy just about every Friday because the then Conservative Government were attempting to embarrass the Labour Opposition the question, which now seems less relevant than it was then, of whether Labour would build the fourth Trident submarine. We had such debates Friday after Friday. Not much light, but a certain amount of heat was generated. The important point—which is important as a response to the intervention and to my momentary trip down memory lane—is that nuclear weapons must be wilt in the present strategic context, not in the obsessive historical context to which some in the House seem determined to refer us back.

I reject the suggestion that the anti-ballistic missile treaty is ancient history. I also reject the approach that declares that the anti-ballistic missile treaty is no longer in force. We must accept a determination on the part of the United States to proceed with NMD.

It is important to remember that the treaty is capable of amendment. My view is that we cannot exclude the possibility that Mr. Putin, on behalf of the Russians, will seek—if I may use a colloquialism—to cut some kind of deal. It is not difficult to envisage the basis of some agreement between the United States and Russia that allowed for an amendment of the treaty in return, for example, to agreed reductions in the total number of strategic warheads held by both Russia and the United States; that relied on at least a reconsideration by the Senate of the comprehensive test ban treaty; and that included some additional funds replicating the Nunn-Lugar programme, in order to enable Russia to deal with the detritus of its nuclear weapons programme, some of which swings on anchors at Murmansk and some of which is to be found in decaying arsenals throughout Russia. Mr. Putin might argue, perhaps with more difficulty, that a bargain was possible if the expansion of NATO was inhibited. It is not impossible to understand such an arrangement.

The article in the Financial Times argued that China's position of outright opposition may be changing. It is not difficult to envisage that country, although not a signatory to the treaty, endeavouring to reach some accommodation with the United States, perhaps to drive a harder bargain on trade, economic advantage or, indeed, on Taiwan. We must therefore accept the determination of the Administration to proceed and the possible willingness of the two principal protagonists to reach some agreement.

The development of effective missile defence is measured in decade rather than years. The land-based system cannot be deployed until 2007 at the earliest, and the sea-based system cannot be deployed until 2011, long after the United States constitution allows Mr. Bush to continue to occupy the White House.

History shows that impregnable defences are illusory. Strong defensive systems encourage the proliferation of offensive systems or the development of the means to circumvent defence. I do not believe that 21st century technology, any more than the technology that gave us the Maginot line, makes that fundamental military truth redundant.

On Iraq, the Select Committee concludes: for so long as Iraq denies UNMOVIC at access there can be no progress towards the suspension and eventual lifting of sanctions. It is no secret that the Liberal Democrats have argued for some time for lifting non-military sanctions against Iraq. We accept that Saddam Hussein's regime must be contained and the maintenance of the credible threat of military action is part of that containment. We also accept the need for sanctions on military and dual-use goods. However, we do not believe that non-military sanctions are justified any longer. They are a blunt weapon and they erode the consensus in Arab capitals. Colin Powell must have discovered that during his recent trip through the middle east. Non-military sanctions make Arab support for the containment policy difficult. However, re-introducing a weapons inspection regime is imperative.

Mr. Richard Butler is often mentioned in the context of sanctions against Iraq. I recommend his recent book, "Saddam Defiant", to anyone who has an interest in the matter. After making the case for inspection, he deals with sanctions. On page 55, he states: it is clear that their impact has been on ordinary Iraqi people. The members of the Iraqi power structure have been scarcely affected, either in terms of the quality of their lives as individuals or in terms of their retention of control over the economy, the military, and the nation. On page 60, he states: So, over the long haul, sanctions have proven a relatively ineffective weapon against Saddam and his flouting of international law, and they've provided a propaganda opportunity he hasn't hesitated to milk. I therefore disagree with the Select Committee's conclusion that the current regime of sanctions should remain in place.

Mr. Wilson

Do the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Liberal Democrats oppose a sanctions regime that is directed against Iraq's capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Campbell

Not at all. I have been at pains to explain that the policy on Iraq must be containment supported by the credible threat of military action, and that sanctions should be directed against military or dual-use equipment. However, non-military sanctions are no longer justified. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), in his new capacity as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has already spent time in the middle east, taking account of opinion on those matters. I am sure that he recognises that considerable reservations about the current sanctions regime exist there.

Is Saddam still a threat? Of course he is. As Richard Butler acknowledges, he has continued to develop weapons of mass destruction in the years since the UN inspection team was forced to leave the country. He has certainly developed biological weapons, and recent evidence from German intelligence sources suggests that he has the capacity to develop nuclear weapons in three years. That underlines the threat that he poses and the overwhelming requirement to maintain an effective policy of containment. My policy would attract more support than the current arrangements, which cause anxieties about the broad-band, untargeted and relatively ineffective non-military sanctions.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, East, the Chairman of the Select Committee, referred to biological weapons. He pointed out that efforts have been under way in Geneva since 1995 to establish a protocol that would allow for verification provisions in the chemical weapons convention. Negotiators are supposed to complete their work in time for the next review of the convention at the end of the year. As recently as 19 February, the chairman of the negotiators warned that little time remained to reach the compromises necessary for a successful conclusion and a verification regime.

The United Kingdom is one of the three depository states for the convention. It is fair to say that we have an exemplary record in trying to achieve an effective protocol. It is imperative that the British Government use all their political influence to try to ensure a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations on the convention. Doubtless the Minister will be able to give the House some assessment of the likelihood of success.

Some people oppose a verification regime because they are anxious to prevent secrets in commercially lucrative biotechnology from becoming more widely available. However, the need for a verification regime for the most easily carried and concealed weapons of mass destruction is overwhelming.

The chemical weapons convention came into force in 1997. Since then, more than 850 inspections in 44 countries on more than 4,000 sites have occurred. The current budget for the technical secretariat for the chemical weapons convention is approximately $66 million. It has made a positive and successful start, but some ambiguity exists about a so-called "challenge inspection", when one state can call for the immediate inspection of a site in another state's territory. That procedure has not been tested, and there are doubts about whether the effectiveness of the convention can be assessed properly until that happens.

Any verification regime that is adopted for biological weapons will almost certainly be based on the chemical weapons convention regime. We must ensure that it avoids the ambiguity about the challenge inspection process. Several states—North Korea, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Libya—have not signed the chemical weapons convention. We must use all our political influence on at least some of those states to persuade them to become part of the non-proliferation regime.

Although some individuals take a different view, it is the common policy of all parties that the United Kingdom should maintain a nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future and that it should be based on the two principles of minimum deterrence and weapons of last resort.

It is worth while reminding ourselves occasionally of just how far the United Kingdom has proceeded in nuclear disarmament. We did not encourage or have any part in any programme for the modernisation of short-range weapons—the "Follow On To Lance" programme, as it was been described. However, it must be said that Baroness Thatcher was a pretty enthusiastic supporter of that suggestion, at least in the first instance.

We have abandoned nuclear depth charges and we have decommissioned free-fall nuclear bombs. Intermediate nuclear weapons—Cruise and Pershing, to which reference has been made—have gone from the UK. We have abandoned the proposal for a tactical air-to-surface missile, which would have had a nuclear warhead. All that has happened over the past 10 or 12 years. If, in the preceeding 10 or 12 years, those changes had been offered as a possible programme of nuclear disarmament for the UK, it would have been thought optimistic, to say the least. The number of nuclear warheads under this Government has been reduced to about 200, approximating to the number on the Polaris system that has been replaced.

That is all well and good, but we have obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. There is no question but that there were some difficulties in the review conference about the renewal of the treaty. One important step that allowed for renewal of the NPT was the fact that all five of the declared nuclear powers signed up in very robust language to a commitment leading ultimately to the elimination of nuclear weapons. I am not so naive as to think that that will happen over a very short time, but that commitment was important for the NPT. Its importance lies in a continuing obligation on the part of the five declared nuclear states, which are of course the five permanent members of the Security Council.

The United Kingdom has a great opportunity to lead the charge to implement that obligation. It is based on article 6 of the treaty, but it was reinfused and re-emphasised in the declaration that all five states made in New York last year. There is a substantial political opportunity for the UK, which this Government ought to take. I doubt very much that in the lifetimes of any of us we can eliminate nuclear weapons from the planet, but we can certainly go a long way towards making the planet a very much safer place for our children and grandchildren by a gradual decline in the extent to which states regard nuclear weapons as essential to their security.

3.52 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I want to refer to a couple of recommendations in the Foreign Affairs Committee report. I am a member of the Committee and happily signed the report. There is mention, as the Minister knows, of the proliferation of small arms. The use of small arms brings about much terror and repression in many parts of the world. I am referring to page 9 of the Government's response to the recommendation. I welcome their response because, among other things, it states: the Committee will wish to be aware that the UK has nominated Sir Michael Weston, our former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, as a candidate to chair the 2001 UN Conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. I should like the Minister to comment on that candidacy. My research may be poor, but were we successful in recommending Sir Michael Weston for that position?

We need to examine other measures to curb the proliferation of small arms—the phrase used in the report. We need to look again at the European Union's code of conduct on arms exports, which is mentioned in the report that was published this week by the Quadripartite Committee—comprising the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees—entitled "Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 1999 and Parliamentary Prior Scrutiny". It recommends greater transparency in the code of conduct. I have long been a critic of the code because I think that I am right in saying that it is entirely voluntary and that no sanctions can be imposed by the EU on member states that ignore it.

The Government should take the report very seriously. It recommends: in all future bilateral discussions with applicant countries, the Government makes a specific point of pressing the need to conform to the EU Code of Conduct. I refer to that report because it impinges directly on the Foreign Affairs Committee report. I am a member of the Quadripartite Committee as well. Concern is also voiced in the Foreign Affairs Committee report about the proliferation of small arms. Applicant countries need to have it spelled out to them very clearly that they must conform to the code of conduct. That of course also means that the 15 member states must conform to it. I should like the code to be strengthened.

I listened closely to what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) had to say on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I welcome his generous tribute to those who have a principled objection to the British nuclear deterrent. I happen to be one of those who have never supported the British nuclear deterrent. I say that in the full knowledge that a goodly number of my constituents work across the water at the Clyde submarine base at Faslane and Coulport. They know my views on the issue.

The five nuclear weapons states cannot expect other nations that, unfortunately, are acquiring the capacity to build nuclear weapons to listen to their warnings about the dangers of proliferation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made some mention of that. Might not other nations say, "Put your own houses in order", given that the five have a massive amount of nuclear weaponry?

Nuclear submarines are a common sight on the lower Clyde and the firth of Clyde, and I have long argued that there should be a tough code of conduct to keep them well away from fishing vessels. I remind the Minister in that context of the sad sinking of the fishing vessel Antares. Skipper Jamie Russell, whom I knew, and his three crew members died when a nuclear submarine sailed straight into their demersal gear. None of the four men had a chance of escaping their terrible fate.

The code of conduct that has been introduced is working well. I am honorary president of the Clyde Fishermen's Association, and have not had any recent complaints about infringements of the code by submarines. However, I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that it is under regular review and that there are discussions with members of the Clyde Fishermens Association and others who fish in those traditional waters. I know that he and his officials would disagree with me, but I think that submarines should always be on the surface when steaming through traditional fishing grounds.

A principled abhorrence of British nuclear weapons was clearly shown by the people, including the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, who gathered at Faslane a few weeks ago to express their hostility to our nuclear fleet. Many ordinary, decent people joined in that event, but their presence was lost sight of because of the conduct of those two sun-tanned socialists, Tommy Sheridan MSP and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). Accusations were levelled at those two protesters over their theatrical behaviour—both were arrested on that day. I could not join the demonstration, but I assure the Minister that I would not have been arrested by the Strathclyde police. In fairness to those two, they have long held the view that our nuclear deterrent should be done away with.

If ever Her Majesty's Government chose to decommission those vessels, measures would have to be taken to provide alternative employment for my constituents and others who have long worked at the base. I know that the matter is not the Minister's responsibility, but I totally oppose the privatisation—that is what it is—of the essential repair and maintenance activities that that first-class work force have undertaken for many years. The Ministry of Defence should think again. Its officials and Ministers seem to believe that it is axiomatic that private management is always superior to that in the public sector. The Government should seriously consider the joint trade union response to the proposals for that partial privatisation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife mentioned the so-called national missile defence system. We all know that there is not a cat in hell's chance of the Bush Administration deploying such a system in their term of office. My right hon. Friend argued that more eloquently than me. It will be many years before it can be deployed.

I was keen for the report to recommend that the Government must take account of people's deep-seated concerns about the United Kingdom's involvement in the so-called national missile defence system. I have great sympathy with the reservations voiced by our European friends on this matter. When the report talks about our special relationship with the United States, it puts the term in inverted commas. I happen to think that this country and many others are client states of the American superpower. There is concern about such developments, which violate certain articles of the anti-ballistic missile treaty. We must take those serious concerns on board.

I believe that we have produced a reasonable report covering matters from small arms to the national missile defence system. I welcome some of the Government's responses to it, but they must do more on the European Union's code of conduct. It must be transparent, and there must be sanctions. The applicant countries must be told that the issue is important for many people throughout the world, and that they must conform to the code of conduct.

In contradistinction to what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said, I would like our deterrent to be done away with. One of the witnesses, an Australian professor, told the Committee, "You British are pouring money down a rat hole"—a typically Australian observation, if I may say so, as I told him at the time. However, he was voicing a genuine truth, and I would like our deterrent to be whittled down. That report and the one published this week deal with many other issues that the Government should take very seriously.

4.5 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

Like other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken, I shall speak mainly about national missile defence—but before doing so, I shall make some observations about the wider international arms control scene, which is an essential backcloth to responsible decisions on NMD.

At the outset of the Committee's inquiry, I asked the experts a question that I have asked over many years: did they judge that the international community was winning or losing the battle to establish an effective system of verifiable and enforceable arms control worldwide that covers weapons of mass destruction? The answers that we received were, as always, mixed.

There were the relative optimists, who could point to the fact that in recent years we have managed to conclude the comprehensive test ban treaty; that since the end of the cold war we have brought about a major reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the two big nuclear powers, Russia and the United States; that we have concluded the chemical weapons convention; that the various nonproliferation regimes have been strengthened; and that we have made some progress, at least procedurally, and albeit at a snail's pace, towards the critically important verification regime under the biological weapons convention, which is so urgently needed, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) rightly said.

If those are the plus points on the more optimistic side of the scale, there are equally formidable points on the pessimistic side. Some countries have signed and ratified the important arms control conventions, but some potentially dangerous countries have not done so. Some potentially dangerous countries have signed up to certain treaties, but there are reasonable and possibly strong grounds for doubting whether they will comply with their provisions.

Moreover, proliferation of nuclear materials, of components for nuclear weapons, and of guidance systems and delivery systems, is widely reported, and supported evidentially. Scientists and technicians are lured away, often for understandable financial reasons, to work in countries where they are well paid for their skills and expertise in weapons of mass destruction.

The number of nuclear weapons states has continued to expand slowly but remorselessly—most conspicuously, more recently, in the Indian sub-continent.

Finally, I suppose, there is the age-old truth about arms control—that arms are not dangerous, only the people who possess them. Today, there is a small minority of people—as there has been through the ages, and will always be—who act outside the normal boundaries of morality, compassion and humanity. Such people are prepared to cause loss of life, possibly on a prodigious scale.

When I weigh the optimistic factors against the pessimistic ones, I regret to say that I conclude that we are losing the battle to create a worldwide system of enforceable arms control for weapons of mass destruction. That is the sobering background to the question of national missile defence.

I have no problem with the concept of NMD. It is a purely defensive system, and any country is entitled to safeguard its national integrity with defensive weapons. The system represents no offensive threat to other states.

I will have no difficulty, either, if the United States Government decide to spend what will no doubt be billions of dollars of American taxpayers' money on the research and development stage of NMD. I am deeply relieved that the taxpayers of this country, and of my constituency, will not have to spend that money, but if the elected American Government decide to spend their taxpayers' money in that way, that is a matter for them.

Beyond the research and development phase, however, lies the question of deployment, which involves the wider international community. It certainly involves Britain, given the existence of the Fylingdales radar facility, and our membership of the UN Security Council. If a US Government wished to deploy land-based interceptors in locations other than those allowed under the anti-ballistic missile treaty—that is, around their national capital, or existing domestic intercontinental ballistic missile fixed-silo sites—either they would have to achieve an agreed renegotiation of that treaty, or they would have to abrogate it unilaterally.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife that an agreed renegotiation of the ABM treaty between the US and Russia is well within the bounds of possibility. The Russian Government would no doubt exact a legitimate price, but an agreed renegotiation is certainly possible. The US and Russia are the only parties to the ABM treaty; if they could achieve an agreed renegotiation, the integrity of the treaty and of international arms control agreements would be safeguarded.

However, the story would be very different if a US Administration went down the path of unilateral abrogation. I earnestly hope that no future US Administration will feel obliged to go down that route. The fragility of the international arms control environment means that if countries around the world saw that the most powerful country in the world, with the largest defence capability, was willing unilaterally to abrogate international arms control agreements that it had signed, they would inevitably wonder why they should not do likewise if such agreements became inconvenient for them. There would then be a serious risk that the already all too fragile structure of existing international arms control agreements would unravel.

I hope that during the research and development period, the US will take all possible steps to explain the defence and security rationale behind the NMD programme much more fully than has so far been the case. There are fundamental questions to which I have seen no very credible answer, and three in particular are in the forefront of my mind. I hope that the US Administration will answer them.

First, which are the so-called rogue states that the US Administration regard as a threat sufficient to oblige them to erect the NMD shield? It is not enough to answer that question by trotting out the quartet of rogues gallery states that have been presented to Congress and the wider world—North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Libya. The postulation that one of those countries might launch an ICBM attack on the continental United States raises the question of why it would do so when the US Administration has a wholly invulnerable and massive retaliatory nuclear capability.

The people responsible for launching an ICBM strike against one or more American cities could not but be aware that in doing so, they would be sentencing themselves to literal nuclear incineration, probably within a matter of minutes. Would the heads of the four states that have been trotted out as rogues be willing to sentence themselves to nuclear incineration? I am wholly unpersuaded that they would.

We read that North Korea's leader, Chairman Kim Jong II, enjoys a very comfortable and possibly slightly hedonistic life style, which is in marked contrast to the abject misery to which he has sentenced virtually all the rest of his people. He is currently engaged in a welcome thawing of relations between the two Koreas, as a result of which rail communications across the Korean peninsula and the 38th parallel are being opened up. Nothing that I know of him suggests that he would be remotely interested in sentencing himself and his regime to instantaneous nuclear obliteration.

Then there is Saddam Hussein. We would all agree that, of all the leaders with significant military power at their disposal, he is one of the nastiest pieces of work around, if not the nastiest. However, like other very nasty pieces of work, he combines a capacity for extreme nastiness with an almost paranoid concern for self-preservation. Thousands of people have died as a consequence of Saddam Hussein's determination to preserve himself. That determination is hardly the characteristic of a man who would sentence himself and his Administration to nuclear incineration at the hands of a retaliatory US strike.

At the moment, I do not find it remotely credible that the regimes in Iran or Libya would contemplate for a moment subjecting themselves to the certainty of an American retaliatory second strike. Therefore, we need a much clearer, more credible explanation: which are the countries with an ICBM capability against which NMD is seen to be a key and necessary defence?

The second question that I hope that our American friends will explain much more fully to us is why they believe that, of the three options that a possessor of weapons of mass destruction has to inflict many millions of casualties on the United States, an intercontinental ballistic missile would be the one chosen. That option is far and away the most expensive. Perhaps the most critical point of all is that it is easier to determine the source of an ICBM strike than the source of other strikes, so it is easier to target retaliatory action after an ICBM strike than after an attack with either a chemical or a biological weapon.

The only thesis on which NMD can be based is that there could be a rogue state leader who had taken it upon himself to try to kill millions of Americans—but even if that were true, it seems to me that he would use not an intercontinental ballistic missile, but possibly a chemical weapon. As has already been mentioned, we had an ugly real-life example of that in 1995: the sarin attack in the Japanese underground system, which resulted in 12 people losing their lives and approximately 5,000 people being made ill, with various degrees of severity. A chemical weapon attack is a possible option, but chemical weapons used on any scale are bulky. Far and away the most likely means of assaulting the continental United States with a weapon of mass destruction is a biological weapon.

As has been said, in our report we specifically drew attention to the Foreign Office paper that was placed in the Library on 4 February 1998, in which the Foreign Office, rightly, declassified information that had been held, classified, within Government circles for years. It announced in non-classified form its assessment that

One hundred kilograms of anthrax released from the top of a tall building in a densely populated area could kill up to three million people. It is the danger from biological weapons that should be exercising the minds of the defence and presidential leadership in the United States, and indeed around the world, given the devastating consequences of small quantities of those materials and the serious risk that the perpetrators of such an appalling crime might go undetected. They would almost certainly be extraordinarily difficult to trace. That is my second question to the United States. The whole foundation of national missile defence is the supposition that some rogue state seeking to destroy millions of Americans will use ballistic missiles, rather than a chemical or biological weapon.

That brings me to my final question to our American friends. Let us take the scenario on which the whole of NMD is based: out there, a rogue state leadership is willing to initiate an assault with a weapon of mass destruction on the American continent. Let us take the second assumption: it has decided, for whatever reason, to do that with an intercontinental ballistic missile. Why do our American friends believe that in such circumstances the President of the United States will not take action well before any ICBM is launched? Putting it the other way round, why do they believe that the President of the day will wait in the Oval Office until an ICBM from a rogue state, which they will clearly be aware of—they will have seen it under construction and during flight testing, and they will have seen the launch pads—is launched, hopefully to be intercepted by NMD?

There is no possibility of a President of the United States and the commander of the United States armed forces in such circumstances waiting for the launch of any ICBM attack. Even now the American President has at his disposal a means of destroying the ICBM on the launch site, or well before it even gets to the point where it is ready to be launched. Like the British Prime Minister, the President has the capacity to use conventionally armed cruise missiles, whose pinpoint accuracy has been strikingly demonstrated in the Kosovo war.

Those of us who have been to the Republic of Yugoslavia recently have seen for ourselves how American cruise missiles could be targeted successfully at the slim bridges over the Danube in Novi Sad, dropping those bridges into the river. I will always carry with me one of the most striking images of the extraordinary accuracy of the American cruise missile technology. In Belgrade, the main secret intelligence building, which, accidentally or possibly by design, was sited cheek by jowl with a maternity hospital—that is, within 50 m of it—was taken out by a cruise missile, which left the hospital untouched.

An American President with the capability to put a cruise missile right on to the launch pad of any installation that he believed might result in an ICBM attack on the United States would use that pre-emptive strike capability. The Americans have used pre-emptive strikes before. As the House will recall, they did so in the mid-1980s. F111s with conventional weapons attacked Tripoli and Benghazi to make a pre-emptive strike against Colonel Gaddafi and to stop his state terrorism, which we had seen throughout Europe: the TWA airline attack and the Achille Lauro liner hijack.

The F111 attack was intended to stop Libyan state terrorism in its tracks. Indeed, there was no repetition of such actions. For that reason, the United States President would use the weapon of a pre-emptive strike. He would be entirely justified in doing so, rather than allow an ICBM to be launched against the continent of the United States.

Those are my three questions about national missile defence. I hope that, if the current American Administration—who, I am sure, wish to carry with them as far as they possibly can both the NATO alliance and the wider world community—move strongly into the research and development phase of national missile defence, they will come forward with much more coherent and much more credible answers to the type of questions that I have asked, and that I know other hon. Members will be asking in the course of this debate.

In my view, there is no greater policy priority for the world's international leadership than to reverse what I believe is a worrying downward trend in adherence to international arms control measures concerning weapons of mass destruction. There is no greater priority than to halt that downward trend and to reverse it. The long-term future of millions of people on this planet depends on putting in place in relation to those weapons, which can destroy millions of people, an effective worldwide system of international agreements that can be monitored and policed.

4.31 pm
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

I commend the speech made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), in which he expressed very clearly many of the concerns that are shared by most Committee members about the current rationale for national missile defence.

One of the lessons that I took from the Committee's visit to Washington was the extreme importance of the current network of international arms control treaties, and the enormous results that those treaties have achieved. Not unnaturally, our Committee tended to concentrate on the failures of arms control. However, it is very important to start by acknowledging the immense achievements of those treaties. I believe that they have contributed to making the world much safer today than it was decades ago.

Those achievements include, of course, the START 2 treaty, which committed the United States and Russia to continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals, and the unilateral action that the French Government and our Government have taken to reduce our nuclear arsenals. Therefore, four of the five nuclear powers are actively unilaterally or bilaterally reducing their nuclear arsenals. As the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said, one of the outcomes of the 2000 nuclear non-proliferation treaty review was that all five nuclear weapons states made a commitment to work towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Although, unfortunately, they did not set themselves a target date by which that was to be achieved, at least they all committed themselves to moving towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

It is still a concern that there are three unacknowledged nuclear states—India, Pakistan and Israel. It is difficult for the international community to find a way of bringing them into the international arms control framework. It would not be acceptable to acknowledge them as nuclear weapon states and add them to the existing five, because by so doing we would clearly be encouraging other states to move towards acquiring nuclear weapons. Conversely, as it is not even officially acknowledged—at least in the case of Israel—that they have nuclear weapons, we do not have to face up to the implications of their having nuclear weapons in regions where there is active and open conflict and therefore extreme danger that those nuclear weapons might be used.

It is precisely because the international framework of arms control treaties has achieved and delivered real gains for world peace that the threat posed to those treaties from the United States plans for national missile defence is so extremely concerning. As has been mentioned, the original push for national missile defence came from the Rumsfeld commission. I believe that, at that time, he was Senator Rumsfeld; now, however, he is of course the American Secretary of Defence.

The prime error in the commission's work was that it used a different method of threat assessment from that which had been used previously. The commission did not attempt to assess the intent of a missile-owning state to attack another state—to assess whether there was a rationale to attack—but simply examined the state's missile capability, drew a circle around the state and said, "Everything within that circle is at risk." If that approach had been followed when assessing American nuclear weapons, for example, one could say that the United Kingdom is "under threat" from American nuclear weapons. That exposes the fallacy in the Rumsfeld commission's argument.

Mr. Wilkinson

Surely a serious analyst would examine the international relations track record of the countries that have acquired a nuclear capability and conclude that they were politically unpredictable as they do not have societal control systems to make quite sure that their leadership does not become aberrant and a threat to neighbouring states and the world order. Surely it is because of such a judgment that Mr. Donald Rumsfeld and his commission reached the prudent conclusions that they did.

Dr. Starkey

There is no indication that the commission assessed intent at all.

Mr. Wilkinson

Surely it has to be a fact that one judges a state by its military capabilities, in the knowledge that its intentions may vary with alterations in political regime. That is the point: capabilities can be built up over time and maintained, whereas there can be very sudden, abrupt and fundamentally crucial changes in political leadership that no one can foresee.

Dr. Starkey

I think that the hon. Gentleman is making my argument for me. In a proper risk assessment, one considers both the possession of weapons and intent. I do not think that he and I are arguing. I am saying that there is no evidence that the Rumsfeld commission considered intent at all. That is why the risk assessment that it made differed so markedly from any risk assessment made by any previous American Administration.

The commission did not consider intent and, additionally, simply extrapolated forwards. It considered current weapons possession, decided what it thought those states might do, and said that America itself might be under threat, when it is not.

The Rumsfeld commission also introduced the bizarre concept—the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) may not feel that it is bizarre—of a rogue state. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, at some point in the previous American presidency, the concept of a rogue state had changed to "a state of concern". Under the current presidency, however, the concept has changed back to that of a rogue state.

Rogue states are in the eye of the beholder. One could list many criteria for defining a rogue state that could be used by some states to label as rogue states others that we regard as allies. The criteria include being unpredictable, intending to take action outside national law, and believing that national self-interest justifies action regardless of the framework of international law.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood will know that there are countries that believe that the NATO action in Kosovo, which we supported, was outside international law. Although I do not agree with that assessment, some states genuinely question whether our action in Kosovo complied with international law. Inasmuch as they believe that we contravened international law, they may reasonably feel that they could view us as a rogue state. Such definitions, therefore, are distinctly unhelpful. Indeed, they say much more about the people who decide on them than about the states that are labelled as rogue states. In any case, as many other right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, rogue states are not believed to provide the same degree of threat by other countries as they are by the United States.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling pointed out that North Korea is now behaving slightly more acceptably in engaging in dialogue with South Korea. North Korea has agreed a moratorium on further testing of its ballistic missiles. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not believe that there is any significant threat at present from North Korea, which is starting to behave slightly less like a rogue state. The trend in North Korea, in foreign policy terms, is taking a rather more benign direction than has been the case in the past.

We heard evidence during our investigations that Iran has a perfectly legitimate right to feel under threat. It is right next door to Iraq, with which it previously engaged in an extraordinary war, resulting in the death of thousands of Iranian and, indeed, Iraqi citizens. Iran is also already within range of the Jericho 2 missiles that the Israeli Government have deployed. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that Iran may wish to take steps to defend itself. Iran's acquisition of defensive capacity, given the threats that it faces, should not be taken as evidence that it wishes to move into aggressive mode. The Shahab 3 missile that Iran is developing has Cyprus and Turkey within its range. However, neither of those states feels particularly threatened, because there is no evidence of any intent by Iran to attack them.

Iran certainly poses no threat whatever to the United States. The only way the United States has been able to suggest otherwise is by extrapolating the threat forward and saying that Iran intends, in the fulness of time, to acquire missiles that would reach American territory.

Libya is assessed as posing no particular threat in this regard. Iraq is clearly a threat, but experience has demonstrated that America and the other allies, including ourselves, are able to deal with Iraq if necessary. Again, there is no need to cite the development of national missile defence to provide defence against Iraq.

The threat of the so-called rogue states is simply not credible. That raises very disturbing questions for other nations about the USA's intent in moving forward with national missile defence. Given that there is no credible threat from rogue states—but even if there were, there are much simpler ways of dealing with it—what exactly is the USA's intention in developing national missile defence? The suspicion must be that this is merely a precursor for something much bigger and that it is not simply an entirely defensive system. Making America entirely invulnerable, as far as America and some of its allies are concerned, allows it to act in a way that is distinctly unhelpful to other states and might be aggressive. That perception of the real reason for national missile defence, given that the cited reason is not credible, worries other states, including Russia and China, and has caused enormous concern among many people in Britain and other European Union member states.

The perception in Russia and China is important, not just because it is not in our interests for them to feel insecure, as insecure states do foolish things, but because the effect on China would be to encourage it to increase its nuclear arsenal. That has a knock-on effect on other undeclared nuclear states, notably India and Pakistan. An upward movement in nuclear movements would be extremely unhelpful.

The fear is that America is moving towards an ability to impose its will on other countries, regardless of international law and international norms. That general feeling of insecurity is not in British interests because it makes us less secure.

Since the report was produced, there has been a change of presidency in the United States and a change in the apparent nature of its plans. The new Bush proposals are not yet, I understand, completely formulated. However, there are suggestions that instead of having land-based facilities, America might move to sea -based or air-based facilities. There are also suggestions that British participation, through use of the Fylingdales listening post, although desirable might not be essential, and that America might move to attacking missiles in the boost phase rather than as at present.

As has been pointed out, even the original Clinton proposals could not have been deployed until beyond 2007. The new proposals could not possibly be implemented until beyond 2011—and, in all probability, way beyond that—so we are not talking about deployment of this facility in the foreseeable future. However, the US commitment to the concept—its preparation for it and investment of huge resources in it—is itself destabilising. It causes a climate of fear among other nations, which believe that America will simply impose its will. It causes all the compensatory reactions in Russia, China and other nations that help to unravel the arms control treaties.

I believe it is absolutely right that the Prime Minister has attempted to communicate to President Bush the deep concerns that are felt throughout the world about the American proposals. My right hon. Friend is trying to get across the importance of the Americans discussing their proposals with Russia, their allies and China, as well as the extreme importance of the Americans not unilaterally breaching the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

I am concerned about the wider implications of the American Administration's commitment to national missile defence and the way in which that commitment betrays a certain approach to foreign policy objectives. In the first instance, it betrays a unilateral approach. Of course every country must be concerned about its own security. All Governments have a duty to ensure the security of their citizens. However, we are all interdependent. Frankly, it is not within the power even of the American Government to protect their citizens at home and abroad by themselves. America is dependent—to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the circumstances—on other Governments helping them to protect their citizens, particularly when their citizens are abroad.

Every Government must take account of the effect of their actions on other Governments—especially their allies—and of the effect that their actions may have on the behaviour of other Governments, which may contribute to the greater insecurity of the citizens of the countries concerned. The current approach of the United States Government, particularly in regard to national missile defence, demonstrates the worrying view that they and they alone can secure the safety of their citizens—that they need not bother about the concerns their allies may express, and indeed that they need not bother about the concerns of Russia or China.

When we were in the United States, we heard advisers to Republican senators waxing lyrical about NMD. They demonstrated a disturbing mindset, seeming to be entirely unaware of the perceptions, fears and views of those outside the United States and, indeed, seeming to regard them as unimportant and irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was the safety of American citizens and the view of the American Government; everyone else would just have to put up with it. That is a worrying approach.

Another worrying factor is the almost exclusive reliance on technical solutions. The world is a worrying place, containing many regimes that are deeply unpleasant, but I do not think that many regimes are irrational. They may do things that we do not like, but there is a certain rationality behind most of them. Some regimes are certainly amoral, but that is not the same as being irrational.

As I have said, the world is a worrying place, but I do not believe that the problems can be solved simply by that reliance on technical solutions—and NMD is essentially a technical fix. It constitutes a refusal to face up to the complexity of foreign relations, and to the fact that conflicts generally have a cause rather than coming from out of the ether. It does not accept that the best way to start making the world a safer place is to concentrate on existing conflicts, and—through a combination of diplomacy and other pressures—to try to resolve them by removing the reasons for them.

The middle east provides an example. The United States is deeply concerned about Iraq and Iran, as we are. That concern is based largely on the extraordinarily poor relations between Iran and America that have existed in the past, and, obviously, on the hostage-taking episode in the United States embassy in Tehran. Those relations are becoming more positive, but the United States is nevertheless concerned about the two nations.

The policy that the United States is currently pursuing in the middle east, however, makes a threat to the United States more likely. The bombing of Iraq, and the United States' unconditional support for Israel, help to stoke up conflict in the area and make it more likely that the US will be at risk from threats from this country and its population.

I was disturbed to hear on television just before this debate that the United States was about to vote, in the United Nations, against sending UN observers to the west bank in an attempt to protect Palestinian civilians from the excessive violence that is being visited on them by Israeli armed forces. We are talking of unconditional support for a state that is the only nuclear weapons state in the middle east, a state that is much more heavily armed than any other in the middle east, a state that is illegally occupying territory—as it has done for 30 years—and a state that is pursuing a policy of assassination of individuals within that occupied territory, as has been admitted by the Israeli armed forces.

That unconditional support by the Americans, and the failure to try to defuse conflict in an even-handed fashion, simply stokes up the problem in the middle east, and increases the threat that has prompted the Americans to propose NMD to protect themselves. Their reliance on a technological fix, and their ignorance of the need to pursue a diplomatic solution, worry me greatly, and I think we should not associate ourselves closely with such an approach. We should also bear in mind the fact that the general conflict in the middle east increases Iran's insecurity, and makes it even more likely that it will step up its programme of missile defence.

NMD is a dangerous diversion from dealing with those conflicts and it threatens to derail the treaties to control weapons of mass destruction. We need to make sure that the United States Government are well aware of the serious concerns in this country about the line that they are taking, and that they start to move away from their proposals for NMD and back towards serious measures, in concert with their allies, to reduce conflict across the world and to get the reduction of weapons of mass destruction and the treaties that govern it back on track. That will contribute most to the security of British and American citizens.

4.55 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

This is a serious subject. I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) and the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) on their contributions to the report. Their speeches were serious, as the subject deserves, as was that of the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). In athletics he was a sprinter, but when it comes to a speech in the House of Commons he is definitely a marathon man—except that once it has been delivered he becomes a sprinter again, so soon is he out of the Chamber.

Let me take up the point made by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West, who said that insecure states do foolish things. The first duty of any Government is to defend their citizens. In a highly technological age, weapons of mass destruction become more precise and potentially more destructive, thereby more of a threat if used unscrupulously. I see no moral reason—she brought ethics into her speech—why a responsible democracy such as the United States should not use its technical capabilities to enhance the security of its citizens.

Everybody understands that conflict resolution is a prior imperative of Governments. Everyone comprehends, for example, that year after year the United States of America has sought a diplomatic solution to the problems of the near east and the Arab-Israeli dispute. However, many disputes are so intractable and deep seated that the potential for regional and, indeed, wider conflict exists. Those include the near east, the Kashmir dispute, the dispute over Taiwan, and the rivalry between Iran and Iraq. A number of those potential flash points are areas where there is a build-up of weapons and weapons of mass destruction, so the need for diplomacy and peaceful solutions in great.

Nevertheless, there are limits to diplomacy, peaceful persuasion and rationality in international affairs. It is imperative that wise democracies prepare for the worst. Leaderships change, as I tried to show in my exchange with the hon. Lady, political intentions alter and unscrupulous, aggressive dictators can all too rapidly come to power. The examples are legion. The most recent in our history was only 19 years ago when the Falkland Islands were invaded. No one would have dreamt that Argentina could launch an invasion, but it did. We were surprised and many people lost their lives. Those unpleasant surprises in international affairs occur all too frequently. It is thus reasonable and wise policy for the United States to develop systems of defence against the most fearsome of all weapons of mass destruction—ballistic missiles.

When we examine what happened in the Gulf war, we realise that it was fortunate that the USA could deploy the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system, notionally in antimissile mode, against the Scuds launched by Iraq. Had the USA not been able to do that, I suspect that Israeli public opinion would not have tolerated the Scud raids launched against Tel Aviv and other Israeli targets. The provocation of the Israeli people would have been such that they would have demanded the armed intervention of their Government, and then a serious regional crisis—following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait—would have become a regional conflict of dangerous proportions.

That example alone demonstrates the importance of the reassuring effect of an appropriate defensive system. In retrospect, we all know that the Patriots were not effective and that, by and large, the Scuds were not intercepted. Nevertheless, the importance of a modicum of defence was understood.

The USA is embarked on the development of missile defence systems, and nothing we can say in this place will deflect it from that objective, especially as it was put to the American people as the programme of the newly elected Republican President, Mr. Bush. The US Secretary of Defence—Mr. Rumsfeld—Colin Powell and the President himself are determined to achieve a successful development programme, which within a few years will enable the USA to determine whether missile defence is feasible and cost-effective.

In essence, there are three types of system: point defence systems—theatre missile defence; wider systems—national missile defence; and, ultimately, space based systems of global significance, which could bring the international community a measure of security against surprise missile attack that we have never enjoyed. Even setting up the rudimentary architecture is an advance. For example, if the allies had to launch a taskforce to intervene to bring peace to an especially troublesome part of the world, such as the middle or the near east, it would be reassuring to know that theatre missile defence was available against ballistic missile attack—whether from nuclear, chemical or biological, or even conventional weapons. It would be wise policy to make available such a capability.

National missile defence is inherently a matter for the United States, but of course some of the facilities, such as the early warning installation at Fylingdales in Yorkshire, are overseas. It would be foolish of the United Kingdom to fail to assist the US in upgrading that facility, inasmuch as we would gain from it. At the very least, as US allies, we should have improved early warning of missile launches that could risk our people. If only in national self-interest, we would be foolish not to assist the Americans in NMD.

Of course, there are international ramifications, but missile defence threatens no one. I am delighted that major powers such as the United States—at present, solely the United States—are working towards an enhancement of defensive capabilities that will reduce the risk to their population, and are no longer keen on increasing their offensive armoury of weapons of mass destruction. That is a great advance.

As other hon. Members have said, the arms control process has already diminished the inventories of offensive weapons systems available to the principal powers. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West said that four out of five main nuclear states had reduced their nuclear armouries: quite so, but one such state remains, and she was not critical of it, any more than was the right hon. Member for Swansea, East. It is China.

The People's Republic of China has been inexorably increasing its defence spending in recent years, allied to which its economic potential is constantly growing. It receives aid, assistance and technical transfers from the western powers and considerable military assistance from the Russian Federation. Analysts would do well constantly to study the People's Republic of China, which is seeking to enhance its sea power in the Pacific and is prepared to sabre-rattle against Taiwan and to embark on military exercises in the neighbouring regions. Its space programme is closely allied to its missile capability and its potential capacity to launch weapons of mass destruction. In those circumstances, the United States is wise to pursue the research programme on which it is embarked. I hope that the research programme will lead to some successful conclusions.

Dr. Starkey

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that national missile defence is intended to protect the United States against China?

Mr. Wilkinson

Indeed so; otherwise, why would the early-warning installations in Alaska be the first to be upgraded? It is conceivable that not just Russia, but China or North Korea, or any of those Pacific states, could be a threat to the western United States of America. That is absolutely true, and no one can argue against that fact.

The policy makers in the United States place more emphasis on the risk of rogue states, because we all assume that they are so inherently unstable that an aggressive dictator is more likely to come to power in them. They have had a succession of unpleasant totalitarian regimes of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West. Nevertheless, it would be extremely imprudent not to take note of the steady increase in China's military power and its potential.

There is also the potential for nuclear blackmail. A nuclear power of whatever size does not have to launch a nuclear weapon to be in a better position to secure its interests. Since we acquired our own nuclear weapons in 1945, we have secured our interests, to some extent, by having a nuclear deterrent. We have kept that nuclear deterrent. As other hon. Members have said, that is now to a much greater degree a non-partisan doctrine across the Floor of the House, but I recall the days when it was a matter of intense political debate.

As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) knows better than I do, there was an intense struggle to prevent the modernisation of NATO's nuclear arsenal in the early 1980s, but we were resolute. The former head of the East German secret service, Marcus Wolf, has just produced a fascinating book that merits careful reading by those who study such matters. We warned that the peace movement was being manipulated by the KGB, the East German secret service, and so on. We also warned about the degree of infiltration in West Germany.

We recognised that the concerted efforts that were being made by the Warsaw pact to create division in the western alliance represented a serious threat, and we stood up to it. Furthermore, President Reagan's programme to try to establish a ballistic missile defence system and the work that General Abramson and others did in the 1980s was a contributory factor in the then Soviet Union's realisation that it could never beat the free world, led by the United States, in an international arms race.

The Soviet Union realised that it was much wiser to move to a democratic system, to allow a process of self-determination in the constituent parts of the former Soviet Union and to reach an accommodation with neighbours. Mercifully, that has been a great step forward.

Nevertheless, old habits die hard within the Russian Federation. The Chechen operation was a bloody undertaking. A Polish Member of Parliament, whom I know well because he sits with me on the Council of Europe's Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography, went to Grozny. When he came back, he told me, "I have not seen such devastation in a western city since the devastation that we saw in Warsaw at the end of world war two." If the Russians are prepared to use military force against people whom they purport to be their own, who knows how they would react if their leadership changed? In those circumstances, is it not important to have not only an arms control regime in place, but a modicum of defence in case deterrence breaks down?

I hope that the United States' western European allies will try to understand why the United States has to pursue its research efforts into ballistic missile defence. I hope, too, that the western Europeans do not divide themselves into EU sheep and non-EU goats. Our common security interests transcend the artificial division that exists on our continent between EU and non-EU members. Such a division is pernicious in the process of the European security and defence identity.

Many central European countries that are crucial to the security of the continent have already joined NATO. They include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Others aspire to join NATO and they are participating in Partnership for Peace. Their interest is in the preservation of their hard-won democracy and the rule of law, which they now value so much. They are entitled to be full members of the decision-making process over European security. They and the countries that have always been members of NATO—such as the Turks and the Norwegians, who had a frontier with the former Soviet Union, and the Icelanders—are all in it together.

That is why I hope that the value of the Assembly of the Western European Union, on which I serve, will be fully appreciated. The treaty of Nice means that everything apart from article 5 of the Brussels treaty and the role of the armaments group will be transferred from the WEU, but that is no reason to give up the invaluable dialogue between interested and informed parliamentarians that exists in the WEU Assembly. We have produced countless reports. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), who chairs the aerospace committee, produced a report on transatlantic co-operation on anti-missile defence and Mr. Schloten, a socialist who chairs the defence committee, has published one on nuclear armaments, which discusses the issues involved and the prospects for the common European defence and security policy.

Those national parliamentarians have a dialogue with national Defence Ministers and may participate in the national defence committees. They vote funds for defence and influence Governments, and I hope that they will influence their Governments to ensure that the Europeans do not diverge from the United States on the question of missile defence. If the developments prove successful, I hope that the Americans will seek to achieve an agreement with the Russians to allow the deployment of proven systems and, as Mr. Putin has offered, will participate jointly in missile defence. Let us work on that offer as a token of his good intentions.

If that could be achieved, the anti-nuclear missile umbrella that has been offered by the United States could protect not just the United States but our continent and could offer a degree of security to Russia as well. That is what is on offer. However, if we turn our back on the technology, we will be turning our back also on an enhancement of our defensive capabilities.

5.14 pm
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

I congratulate the Committee on an outstanding report with whose conclusions I fully identify myself. I also congratulate it on reaching all-party unanimity, on its objectivity and on finding a consensual and rational process of discussion and dialogue on these vital issues. That is the proper approach, which is why we established the all-party parliamentary group on global security and non-proliferation. I thank the Committee for its favourable mention of two meetings that we organised.

There is one underlying message of the report on which people of different attitudes in all countries could agree. At the end of the cold war, it was agreed by common consent that the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction had disappeared. It is now widely acknowledged that we have not grasped the opportunities of the past decade; as a result, it is recognised across the political spectrum, from the far right of the Republican party to the far left of the European parties, that there is a threat. Part of the great challenge in future decades will be to see whether we can reduce that threat in time.

The report compliments Britain on its unilateral reduction of nuclear weapons and on its major contribution to multilateral moves—in particular its positive role in the nuclear non-proliferation review treaty 2000, on which the UN also complimented us. I fully concur with those comments.

We should take seriously all perceived threats, including the threat from rogue states—however they are defined. In doing so, we need to consider the extent of the threat, what is the correct response to it and whether a wrong response could increase other threats that might be more dangerous.

The report records a weight of expert evidence suggesting that the size and time scale of the threat has been hyped in the United States. The Committee believes that political and military industrial complex interests played a greater role than rational strategic analysis in pushing the conclusions that were reached in the US. It is interesting that the Ministry of Defence White Paper "The Future Strategic Context for Defence" seems to reflect, in paragraph 89, a similar estimate of the threat from rogue states. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred in his outstanding speech to the fact that, during the Committee's investigation, diplomatic developments, especially in North Korea, led the United States, at least temporarily, to talk instead about "states of concern".

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) also made outstanding contributions. As they said, the report explains that the United States should never underestimate the deterrent effect of its devastating retaliatory power.

Like other hon. Members, I shall concentrate on missile defence, which is known variously as national missile defence, ballistic missile defence or missile defence. We must consider whether NMD is the wise response, because it threatens the anti-ballistic missile treaty. Some people say that that was only a bilateral treaty and that now, following the memorandum of understanding, it is a pluri-lateral treaty between the United States and some of the Soviet Union's successor countries. However, the Government's response to the report correctly says—as the Prime Minister has said since—that they value the stability afforded by the ABMT.

The ABMT has a multilateral aspect because one thing that was agreed by all parties, including the United States, at the NNPT 2000 review conference was that the ABMT should be preserved and strengthened as a cornerstone of strategic stability and a basis for further reductions in offensive weapons. If the treaty were to be abrogated, it would, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said, be a devastating blow to arms control. Russia has said that it sees a connection between ABM and the SALT and START treaties. As NMD threatens limited nuclear arsenals, it might prove to be a deterrent not to rogue states but to multilateral disarmament. Indeed, it has been suggested by a prominent United States diplomat that NMD should perhaps stand for "no more disarmament".

There would be tremendous pressure on Russia to increase or update its nuclear forces, and for China, which is already expanding its nuclear forces, there would undoubtedly be an impetus to expand further, with the danger of a knock-on effect on India, Pakistan and other countries. Russia and China might not be able to afford vast expansion, but there is a danger in destabilising major nuclear powers, partly because of the risk of increasing the export of nuclear and missile technology at a state or criminal level. Such exports might be not only to rogue states but to that far more dangerous group—terrorists—whose members cannot be deterred because they are more difficult to identify and locate and can convey weapons of mass destruction using a case or a lorry, rather than a ballistic missile.

Missile defence could also encourage a gung-ho adventurism, in the belief that the United States or its allies were protected. That could be extremely dangerous in dealing with existing or potential nuclear weapons states. Missile defence could also increase the risk of catastrophic accident, in three ways in particular. The boost phase interceptor system will have particular dangers. The more invulnerable the United States believes it is, the greater the danger that countries that fear that they may be its rivals will feel vulnerable, and the greater the danger of hair-trigger alerts. The weaponisation of space will be extremely dangerous.

It has been said that sea-based boost phase interceptors may be the form of missile defence that will be favoured by the Bush Administration. It is certainly easier to hit a target during boost phase: it is larger and slower, it is hot and it has no decoys. Dangerous debris may be returned to sender. However, if we have interceptor missiles around the world, close to nuclear weapons states, and with a boost phase that lasts less than five minutes, at what point after a suspected detection of a missile launch would a decision have to be taken to fire if another missile were to intercept it? We are talking about a matter of seconds, and the decision would be taken either by very junior officers—or possibly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East suggested, by computers.

What would happen if a missile was launched at a nuclear weapons state and the situation was misinterpreted? We must remember that some advocates of the system, such as Richard Perle, are talking about having vessels patrolling not only off so-called rogue states but off major nuclear weapons states, in case of an unintentional launch, as they put it. What would happen if a missile was accidentally fired and misinterpretation of that act led to an uncontrolled situation?

I strongly support the Select Committee's conclusion that it is not convinced that NMD is the appropriate response to proliferation, and back it in urging the Government to encourage the US to find other ways of reducing perceived threats.

I disagree with the official Opposition's unconditional acceptance of missile defence without even knowing the terms on which it would proceed. I am disappointed by the way in which the Leader of the Opposition and certain other people who share his point of view have discussed this issue. They talk about whether people have or have not been, or are or are not, members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and to conjure up the 1980s. I am sorry, but the issue is far too serious for us to get involved in the cheap party political knockabout in which we engage on other topics in the run-up to elections.

Dr. Julian Lewis

The hon. Gentleman is always courteous in giving way. However, surely he recognises that the issues debated in the 1980s were, if anything, more important than those on NMD that we are debating now? The outcome of the cold war depended on them. It is a matter of concern when people who were on the wrong side of the debate on 1980s issues try to falsify the record and do not show the slightest acknowledgement of the fact that, if their judgment was wrong in the past, it may be a little susceptible to error now.

Mr. Savidge

That is typical of the Opposition, and underlines my point. This is not about debating personalities and history; it is about debating issues and the future. What matters is the strength of people's arguments, not whether one believes in the organisations to which individuals have or have not belonged. I could go in for guilt by association with various organisations on the political right or left. I am not interested in that; I am interested in debating the issues and arguments. We should concentrate on that and on arguing about the future. I may have different interpretations from others about who was right and who was wrong on certain issues in the past, but we should concentrate on genuine debate.

Mr. Spring

Nobody thus far has introduced any party political points-apart from the hon. Gentleman himself.

The whole basis of the cold war was massive retaliation. However, we are talking about defence. Henry Kissinger, the architect of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, now thinks that it lacks relevance. What he is now saying is pertinent and I hope that it helps the hon. Gentleman to understand our position. He says: History teaches that weakness is provocative and, in a real sense, the absence of missile defence provokes others into seeking such weapons.

Mr. Savidge

I am sorry, but when we talk glibly about missiles being defensive, we should always remember that—going right back to the days of castles, and irrespective of people are in armour or tanks—there has been a delicate balance in warfare. If someone has a lot of offensive power and also builds up defensive power, that can be seen as threatening. That can lead to problems.

On the whole, hon. Members have been extremely sensible about personality issues today. I am simply expressing disappointment at the fact that when Government and Opposition Front Benchers have debated the issue in the past, some Members have treated it as a personality issue, which cheapens the debate. Opposition Front Benchers have genuine convictions on the issue—especially the shadow Defence Secretary, who is committed because he fears the asymmetric threat.

I wish to caution against the Conservatives' position, which seems to be at variance with their traditional position. They seem to be moving away from a belief in deterrence and away from a professed belief in multilateral disarmament. If we speak about the 1980s, it should be remembered that in the 1980s the Conservative party opposed star wars 1 because it believed that that might undermine deterrence and multilateral disarmament.

I compliment the shadow Defence Secretary on his honesty in saying that he wants to see the cover of missile defence extended to the United Kingdom, and in arguing that we should buy into it. He has heard the same thing from Republicans as I have. When they say that they would be happy for the missile defence umbrella to be extended to the United Kingdom, it is on the basis that we would be prepared to spend millions of pounds for that to happen.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said that he was glad that it was US taxpayers who were paying for missile defence, but he should realise that his own Defence spokesman said on "Today" just three weeks or so ago that he wanted British taxpayers to buy their way into it. I wonder how enthused British taxpayers would be by that idea, given that according to the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Ministry of Defence, the threat is remote.

What should the Government's attitude be? There will be voices, not just on the Tory Front Bench, urging us to accept that missile defence is inevitable. Some will say that that was the mandate on which Bush was elected, and that we must therefore accept it. I leave open the question of whether Mr. Bush was or was not elected; I assume that Florida's votes will be debated for many years to come.

More sensibly, some people suggest that there is a bipartisan consensus in the United States, so missile defence is bound to happen. However, I believe that the position is more complex than that. When the Missile Defence Act went through, the Democrats accepted it on four conditions: that it could be proved to be financially reasonable; that it could be proved to be technically feasible; that there was a justifiable threat; and that it did not cause diplomatic damage. Senator Daschle, the Democrat leader in the Senate, said that he intends to push those four tests. It should be remembered that at present the Senate majority depends on the casting vote of the Vice-President and on the longevity of a certain number of elderly and infirm Senators.

It has been said that the US Administration is determined—although the Canadian Prime Minister said that he found a degree of flexibility in the President's commitment or otherwise to missile defence. I do not know whether that is true, but views seem to be divided on how the US should pursue the matter. It worries me greatly that the division between, say, the Powells on the one hand and the Rumsfelds on the other seems to be moving in the direction of the Rumsfelds. I am extremely concerned about the Americans' attitude to North Korea.

It is notable the South Korea is against national missile defence and is in favour of pushing ahead with diplomatic means of dealing with the North Korean threat.

The question of whether the more hawkish or the more consensual people win out in the United States may be influenced by the attitude of other countries. Others would say that there is a special relationship, so we must do what the United States wants. However, that relationship has never involved absolute subservience. For example, Britain did not send people to fight in Vietnam. The special relationship survived, and probably many British people survived as a result. As I said, Britain did not support the original star wars proposal.

I believe that there is fluidity in the United States, Russia and various other countries with regard to the issue. I concur with the Prime Minister, who said that the matter should be handled with care. We should take seriously the concerns of the United States, as the Prime Minister said, but, as the report suggests, we should try to persuade the United States to consider other ways of meeting the threats that it perceives.

There should be genuine dialogue with Russia and China. Making the anti-ballistic missile treaty a pluri-lateral or a multilateral treaty should be considered. In the millennium report to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General, suggested that we should hold an international conference on nuclear dangers to which all countries, including non-signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, could be invited. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) referred to them. At such a conference, we could discuss threat assessment and enter into the deeper, careful, considered international dialogue that the Government proposed in their response to the report.

Let us compare that offer with an imaginary offer. Let us suppose that we were offered a short-term fix: the United States would back the European strategic defence initiative, thus ending all dissension in NATO; the missile shield would be extended to us without our having to pay for it, and we would get extra jobs; the special relationship with the United States would be promoted; and Fylingdales and Menwith Hill would never be used because sea-based missiles would be employed instead. Technical difficulties would mean that we would not have to worry about the matter for decades, because it would take decades to work—if not to undermine arms control. Russia would thus be forced into an ABM deal.

I am trying to conjure up the sort of seductive deal that Mephistopheles would offer Faust. The price would be our acceptance of national missile defence without further question or critical dialogue about its dangers. Would that be a truly Faustian pact? Perhaps not, because Faust was only asked to sell his soul, whereas we might be selling the future of every soul on the planet.

We must bear in mind that, unless we can find effective ways in which to reduce the threats that we face, absolute disaster could ensue in decades or perhaps centuries. We therefore have an awesome responsibility. A major nuclear war could destroy much of human life. The environmental aftermath, such as nuclear winter, could endanger the remainder. Is that the way the world ends— with bangs followed by gradually decreasing whimpers? That would be a terrible betrayal of all past generations and an even greater betrayal of future generations. Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'

5.38 pm
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

There are two possible approaches to debating the great issues of defence and disarmament. One can theorise in a vacuum about the present, or try to learn the lessons of the past. If we do not try to do the latter, we condemn ourselves to making the same mistakes and paying the same price time and again.

I am not alone in believing that it is important that the record of past debates should not be airbrushed or forgotten; the BBC agrees with me. Last year, when the so-called Greenham Common peace camp finally passed into oblivion, the BBC helpfully included a subsection on Greenham Common in the in-depth section of its website. Part of it was entitled, "Timeline: key points". It tracked every development, no matter how piffling, petty, detailed or irrelevant that marked the Greenham Common women's campaign up to December 1983, when, it rightly recorded, the women encircling the base held their last big demonstration. Then, something rather curious happened. The next entry was dated August 1989: The first Cruise missile leaves Greenham Common". The implication was obvious. The women's demonstrations had resulted in the cruise missiles leaving.

For those of us who were involved, professionally as I was or as volunteers, in opposing and undermining the movement for unilateral nuclear disarmament by Britain, so epitomised by those wretched women, there was a curious omission in that jumping from December 1983 to August 1989. What had been left out? Only the fact that, in 1987, several years after any significant protest by the Greenham women had fizzled out, a multilateral deal was concluded—the intermediate nuclear forces deal; the zero-zero option deal—which had been on the table from the Americans since 1981, and the achievement of which had been delayed only until after it had become obvious to the Soviet Union that the campaign for one-sided nuclear disarmament had failed.

The BBC, in its wisdom, had sought to airbrush out of existence the multilateral deal, which was the vindication of NATO's stance, and which led to the removal not only of nuclear weapons on this side of the then iron curtain, but of large numbers of SS20 nuclear missiles on the far side of the iron curtain. It chose to suggest instead that it had been a result of the unilateralist protests, which had somehow miraculously led to this happy outcome—the removal of cruise missiles—three years after the protests had finished.

Mr. Spring

Does my hon. Friend agree that probably the most fantastic misjudgment of global politics in the latter half of the 20th century was made by the party that is now in government, which embraced multilateral disarmament when the cold war had come to an end?

Dr. Lewis

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, except I think that he meant to refer to unilateral disarmament, embraced during the cold war by the Labour party. He is absolutely right, and I shall be coming to that in a moment. [Interruption.] Labour Members do not have anything to be pleased about because their record in this matter is something of which many of them should be greatly ashamed.

Dr. Starkey

I am attempting to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's exegesis, which clearly his Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), failed to follow.

I note that the hon. Gentleman is, as usual, wearing his gold pound sign. Is he suggesting that if, in the fullness of time, the British people, presented with a referendum on the issue, decided that we should go into the euro, that that would demonstrate that all his efforts were entirely nugatory and foolish and that he should attempt to airbrush them from his record? It is perfectly possible to hold views that are not held by the majority but are entirely honourable and for one to have absolutely no desire to airbrush them out of one's record.

Dr. Lewis

I am happy to pay fulsome tribute—as I develop my argument, the hon. Lady will see this—to people who hold sincerely to the unilateralist views that they held at the time, and I have always done so. I shall not be drawn down the route of European defence or other European issues in that connection because I secured an Adjournment debate on those very subjects a little earlier this year. If the hon. Lady had been genuinely interested in those subjects, she could have attended that debate.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for showing characteristic courtesy in giving way. Might I point out to him that members of Scottish CND were delighted to see the departure of the American nuclear submarine fleet and the mother ship from Holy Loch on the firth of Clyde, but they do not claim that they were the principal decision makers in that departure?

Dr. Lewis

I am delighted to hear that Scottish CND does not make that claim. The hon. Gentleman had an honest commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament in the 1980s, when this issue was at the centre of everyone's attention, and still holds to it today, whereas other participants in that debate do not show anything like the same consistency.

I was intrigued by the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). He said that he and the Liberals had not supported unilateralism. I shall read a few quotations. Let us be clear: this country does not need cruise and NATO does not need cruise. Cruise is the front end of the whole anti-nuclear struggle. It is the weapon we have to stop. That was said by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) when he made his platform speech at CND's largest ever demonstration at the height of the crisis. Britain's Trident deterrent is 'a monstrous folly which we should divest ourselves of as soon as possible'. That was the right hon. Member for Yeovil quoted in the Morning Star in July 1984 at the height of the battle. I remain wholly opposed to nuclear weapons. I remain of the firm belief that Britain could afford to get rid of its nuclear weapons tomorrow and would not suffer in consequence. That was the right hon. Gentleman quoted in the CND magazine Sanity in December 1985. I agree with the Liberal Party, which is the only British political party that has always opposed a British nuclear deterrent. That was the right hon. Gentleman also quoted in Sanity in December 1985. Finally, this is what the right hon. Gentleman said on "Newsnight" on the eve of the 1992 general election:

I never took the view that this country did not need an independent deterrent. When I made those points to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, his response was to say that because his right hon. Friend had a distinguished service record it was not appropriate to criticise his past views about nuclear deterrence. Today, everyone accepts that the people who supported disarmament and appeasement between the wars made a terrible mistake. Despite their best and sincere intentions, that stance did not lead to peace, but encouraged aggression and brought on a war that might have been avoided.

Many of those sincere people who advocated disarmament and appeasement had distinguished military records—even more distinguished than that of the former leader of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's party. That did not mean that they were right about the issues then, any more than the answer given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman should insulate the former leader of his party from criticism of his party's position in the 1980s.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

The hon. Gentleman clearly came prepared with those quotations; otherwise, he would not have been able to give them in such detail. In accordance with the conventions of the House, did he advise my right hon. Friend that he proposed to attack him personally?

Dr. Lewis

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely wrong. I did not come prepared with those quotations. On the contrary, I left the Chamber for a short period during his speech to retrieve them from my desk, which is at the foot of the stairs leading from the Members Lobby.

As a result of that, the rest of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's criticism is misplaced.

However, the intervention by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife illustrates a feature of the debate. Criticism of the individual records of parties and their leaders on policy issues is construed as a personal attack, but there is nothing personal in such criticism. I am sure that the number of times that Baroness Thatcher is criticised in this House now, as she was criticised in absentia when she was Prime Minister, is substantial. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has deployed a typical red herring.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Liberal party did not support unilateralism. I think when we look at the record of what he actually said, we will see that the wording was carefully chosen and that the right hon. Gentleman said that the Liberal Democrats did not support unilateralism. With that, there is no problem. From the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point of view, there is only one snag—the Liberal Democrats did not exist before 1988. By that time, the argument about nuclear weapons, peace camps and cruise missiles had been resolved. Indeed, the intermediate nuclear forces treaty of 1987 had already been signed, vindicating the stance taken by NATO.

It is frankly disingenuous to say that there is no blame to be attached to a party because it did not come into existence until after the key events had taken place. In fact, the blame that should be attached is to that party's predecessor organisation, which was most certainly unilateralist throughout the crisis.

Mr. Campbell

Will the hon. Gentleman point to a resolution of the Liberal party that embraced the code of unilateralism to the extent of saying that the United Kingdom should rid itself of all nuclear weapons? That was what unilateralism was commonly regarded as meaning in the period that the hon. Gentleman has described. I challenge him to point to a resolution of the Liberal party that said that.

Dr. Lewis

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has heard me state what the leader of the Liberal party publicly stated. Is he saying that the right hon. Member for Yeovil was wrong when he said that he agreed with the Liberal party, which he described as the only British political party that has always opposed a British nuclear deterrent"? If so—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that I ought to tell the hon. Gentleman that, if he intends to dwell rather lengthily on what another Member has said, he would be advised to give prior notice to the Member in question—in this case, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown). Therefore, I think that the hon. Gentleman has probably said enough on that subject.

Dr. Lewis

I thank you for that advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I remind the House that I had no intention of raising the subject until it was falsely claimed that a political party that had been committed at a key time in this country's history to one-sided nuclear disarmament, had not been so committed.

Mr. Campbell

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps I can try to deal with this. I think that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) would probably wish to say, on reflection, that in his view a mistaken impression may have been given to the House, rather than a false one. I think that that is parliamentary good manners. However, if one hon. Member is persistently going to quote, as the hon. Gentleman is doing, what another Member has said, notice is usually advised. That is the case even if the hon. Member doing the quoting did not intend to do so at the beginning of the debate.

Dr. Lewis

I thank you for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I fail to see how I could give notice about anything that I was going to say in a debate that I did not intend—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not test the patience of the Chair in a matter of this kind. I have given him considerable leeway, and I have tried to make it clear that he should not have introduced this matter into the debate if he was unable to give notice to the right hon. Member for Yeovil.

Dr. Lewis

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it was not me who introduced that matter: it was the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife.

In the course of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, the Minister of State, made a facetious intervention to the effect that anyone should be worried about any weapons system that I support. I was a little surprised by that remark because, only on 28 February, after I and the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) had made speeches in a debate on Sierra Leone, he praised our "outstanding" contributions. I begin to wonder whether we on the Conservative Benches can expect, when we happen to support the Government because we genuinely agree with something that they are doing, to be regarded as making outstanding speeches, but to be subjected to unworthy criticisms of the sort that the Minister made in his intervention when we happen to disagree.

I was therefore minded to look back at the Minister's stance at the relevant time. I was interested to see that, as late as February 1989, he said in Tribune that he had "spent a substantial segment" of his life arguing the moral and political case against nuclear weapons". He lamented the fact, regarding it as a "tragedy", that "historic opportunities" to abandon British nuclear weapons had previously been "squandered", but disagreed with the view that a Labour government without unilateralism is not worth having". In other words, he was reluctantly accepting that Labour's unilateralist policies would have to go if it were ever to get back to power.

One has to wonder about the contrast between the attendance in a debate on this subject, which several hon. Members have said is vital to the future of the planet in 2001, and the likely attendance in the 1980s when the Chamber would have been filled with hon. Members arguing fiercely about whether to go down the peace through defence and deterrence route, or the peace through disarmament route. That is what those debates resolved themselves into time and again.

There are two basic ways of looking at international politics: we can look at it either as a situation in which, as a result of mutual fear and suspicion, nations that would not otherwise be hostile to each other end up in an action and reaction cycle of rearmament, which culminates in war breaking out; or as something analogous to individuals threatening to fight, where the best way to keep the peace is to show that the person who is threatening to attack has no chance of doing so without massive and unacceptable retribution.

Several hon. Members have referred to commitments involving the non-proliferation treaty. Article VI is often referred to and evidence that this country should be committed to the entire abolition of its nuclear defences. It commits the signatories to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date —which has certainly been achieved— and to nuclear disarmament, and to a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control". Nothing in the treaty states that the achievement of a nuclear-free world should be expected to arrive before the achievement of a conflict-free world. Listening to this debate, one might think that the Government, and Opposition Members other than Conservative Members, visualise a situation in which the problem is weapons themselves rather than the intentions of participants on the international stage.

The Government's view has been slowly shifting. When they were still in opposition, they were very resistant to giving up the policy of Britain alone getting rid of its nuclear weapons. Consequently, they tried to adopt a type of halfway house. They tried to say that, rather than giving up the British nuclear deterrent for nothing in return, they would negotiate away that deterrent in return for nuclear weapons being given up by the then Warsaw pact. It was only under the most intense pressure that they finally gave a commitment in which they said that they would keep some nuclear weapons as long as other countries have nuclear weapons. I should like the Minister to tell us today whether the Government stand by that commitment. Is it still the Government's position that they will retain some British nuclear weapons as long as other countries have nuclear weapons that could threaten us? I hope that he will address that issue in his summation.

The commitment that the Labour party made about that in its manifesto for the 1997 general election fell some way short of the commitment that it made in the manifesto on which it unsuccessfully fought the 1992 general election. However, although the Government say that we have reached the minimum capability necessary for nuclear deterrence, there seems to be some uncertainty about whether the Government would include nuclear weapons in arms reductions negotiations if other countries were prepared to reduce their nuclear weapons totals, but not to eliminate them. I want to be assured that we shall not be revisiting debates in the future that so many hon. Members in the Chamber do not seem happy to revisit now.

Paragraph 124 of the Select Committee report states:

Britain as a nuclear weapon state, a permanent member of the Security Council, a leading member of NATO, and a member of the G8 and the EU has a key role and a key responsibility in trying to put all Weapons of Mass Destruction under international arms control regimes and in making progress towards their complete elimination. This must surely be one of the highest foreign policy priorities for the Government. On the very last page of the Government's response to the report, they deal with that conclusion in a single sentence, which states:

The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion. Let us therefore spend a little time examining that conclusion, which states that all weapons of mass destruction should be placed under international arms control regimes. What exactly do the Committee and the Government have in mind by that? I do not see how anything short of a world government, or a United Nations that is vastly different from the organisation that we have known, could properly take over the nuclear deterrents of the countries that currently possess nuclear weapons.

I am concerned that people who want the nuclear genie put back in the bottle fail to appreciate that the disinventing of nuclear weapons would be a thoroughly retrograde step. Does anybody seriously believe that more than 40 years of cold war—confrontation at a level of intensity that would undoubtedly have spilled over into something more active—could have successfully been concluded if it had not been for the mutual terror of the nuclear weapons held by the superpowers? We must not refuse to recognise what happened—a potential world war was averted because dictatorships knew that they dare not attack democracies on account of the retribution that would undoubtedly follow. The lessons of that must be absorbed, yet they are being denied by the very people who are now trying to rewrite history about their behaviour and that of their parties during that period.

I want a simple answer to two simple questions. Do the Government believe that nuclear deterrence helps to keep the peace by persuading dictators not to attack democracies? If so, do they commit themselves not to negotiate away our nuclear weapons as long as any other country has them, and certainly not to agree with the conclusion of this report that all nuclear forces should be placed under some sort of international arms control regime? That was nonsense when it was first proposed at the end of the second world war, it was nonsense when it was revived as a result of various skewed disarmament initiatives periodically in the latter half of the 20th century, and it remains just as nonsensical today.

6.7 pm

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and the members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs who produced the report that we are debating along with the Government response to it.

This debate takes place shortly after the death of a close friend, Peggy Westerway, who was a long-standing campaigner alongside me in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She would probably have been the first to identify herself as one of those "wretched women" to whom the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred. Peggy would have said that that "wretchedness" was an expression of the best part of what moves society forward, when people without particular power were driven not by wealth or influence but by their conscience to make a stand in favour of peacemongering and to oppose the predominant culture of cold warmongering that prevailed then.

Peggy would also have been the first to point out where I should be starting from with the documents before us. The starting point would probably be not the Select Committee report but the Government's response to it. The Select Committee quite rightly expressed its concerns both for this country and internationally about the American proposals for national missile defence. The Government's response to that was, to me, quite confusing.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office states in paragraph (7):

As the Prime Minister made clear on 24 July, the Government is strongly in favour of deeper, carefully considered international dialogue on this complex and difficult issue. The Government has worked hard to promote such dialogue both among NATO allies, and with Russia, China and others. We have of course articulated UK views in the course of such exchanges, and believe these views are well understood, not least in the US. Peggy would tell me, I suspect, that they are not best understood in the United Kingdom.

It is important for the Minister to tell us what views the UK Government have expressed about the UK's position. Have we, for instance, simply told the Americans that they are mad—completely insane—to pursue the idea of NMD? Have we told them that it would tear the anti-ballistic missile treaty apart? Regardless of whether anyone—Henry Kissinger in particular—happens to believe that the treaty has passed its sell-by date, it currently exists.

Have we told the Americans that their star wars programme would unleash another nuclear arms race? Have we told them that it would result in the militarisation of space? Probably most important of all, have we told them that Britain would be no part of that?

A number of Members have said today that NMD would not work—that it would not work for a decade, or that in any event it would not work very well. Let me refer the Minister to an important point in the Select Committee report, which was recognised by the Government. Paragraph 41 says that representatives of the Acronym Institute

warned that nuclear warheads could be delivered, for example, on cargo ships, in delivery trucks that can go across borders and in packing cases. We also know, from current experience, that threats of massive disruption to developed and developing economies caused by disease are far more serious than the threats posed by missiles. We know what could easily be the consequence of the release of anthrax, and we now know just how devastating is the effect of foot and mouth disease in Britain and across Europe.

It is entirely right for us to repeat the message conveyed to the Select Committee that NMD would not eliminate the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, because the nature of those weapons, and their delivery systems, are changing as we speak. The conventional notion of a grand intercontinental ballistic exchange that can be traded off, fended off or outforced is a military theology that has itself passed its sell-by date.

Moreover, we should recognise that in going down that path, we engage in some risky processes ourselves. A number of Members have talked about rogue states, the need to identify the characteristics of such states, and what happens when people see themselves as having been branded as members of that group. I think it reasonable to assume that the phrase refers to states that do not honour the international treaties to which they have signed up—and, moreover, engage in actions that are internationally and militarily destabilising.

The difficult question for the House to take on board is this: what if that definition applies to Britain itself? I want the House to consider two examples. One relates to the ABM treaty; the other relates to another treaty whose origins also lie in the cold war period.

We have often said that the ABM treaty is really a treaty between America and Russia—that it is for them to sort out, and that we are on the sidelines. Following exchanges with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, however, the Select Committee recognises that Britain is at the very least a third party to the treaty. Part of it imposes the existing constraints on the role that RAF Fylingdales can play in international monitoring.

Everyone has recognised that either the ABM treaty can be changed by Russia and America or it can be abrogated by either side, which would change the position of Fylingdales, whose use is tightly prescribed by the terms of that treaty. For us to be a party at this stage to discussions about changing its role puts us in breach of what the ABM treaty stands for. We should reflect carefully on whether we are acting within the strict terms of that treaty, if not within the moral presumptions that were entered into when we signed it.

The treaty relating to the exploration of outer space had its origins in the cold war period. I know that a number of hon. Members were keen to revisit that period. In fact, some would appear to be keen to live in it. I draw the attention of the House to the important event that took place on 27 January 1967, when Britain became a signatory to the outer space treaty—a treaty that exists to this day. Its origins are extraordinarily important in the context of this debate on national missile defence.

The outer space treaty was the second of the so-called non-armament treaties. Its concepts and some of its provisions were modelled on its predecessor, the Antarctic treaty. Like that treaty, it sought to prevent a new form of colonial competition and the damage that could be caused by self-seeking exploitation. Its origins probably date back to 1957, even before the Soviet Union launched its sputnik in October. By that time developments in rocketry had already led the United States to propose international verification of the testing of space objects.

Between 1957 and 1962–63 there was a series of proposals, mainly made by western powers, about ways in which we had to agree internationally to restrict the use of space for military purposes. In September 1960, when President Eisenhower addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations, he proposed that the principles of the Antarctic treaty should be applied to outer space and celestial bodies. Three years later, the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution welcoming the Soviet and United States' statements and calling on all states to refrain from introducing weapons of mass destruction in outer space.

There were further discussions about the details of that proposal, but the key consequence was that on 27 January 1967 the outer space treaty was produced in a form ready for signature. It was signed in Washington, Moscow and London. I urge the Government to reflect carefully on the nature of that treaty, even before we get into discussions about the workability or acceptability of NMD.

Article IV of the outer space treaty simply states:

States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner. The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden. We were one of the founding signatories to that treaty, yet a breach of it is precisely what NMD requires; it is precisely what the United States of America threatens to do—which, I am afraid, is precisely what Britain currently chooses to ignore. Because of that treaty, Peggy Westerway would mount a challenge on the grounds of morality and conscience.

If the ABM treaty or the outer space treaty is abrogated, it really will not matter whether Russia and America came to an agreement to do that. It would still open up a whole new dimension within which an arms race—if not a nuclear arms race—would take place. We would have to bear the responsibility of being one of the parties that made that breach possible; it would take us into a dimension for which the world would never forgive us. That is why the real challenge in international leadership, which we must ask our Government to take on, is a series of commitments about the place that we will occupy on the international stage, where negotiations and discussions are taking place about whether we are willing even to entertain the current American star wars proposals.

We should base our position on five fairly clear principles. It would be fantastic for Members of the House, and enormously welcomed by members of the public, if the Government made a commitment that we will not, in any circumstances, entertain the prospect of being seen as a rogue state by violating the existing treaties that we have signed.

It would be important to make a commitment that we will hold no discussion whatever on extending the use of Fylingdales or including Menwith Hill, because that would violate our current obligations under the ABM treaty. It would break the constraints imposed by the treaty.

It would be helpful if the Government said, openly and clearly, that NMD will not eliminate the threat from weapons of mass destruction. We need to occupy a different platform. I am in favour of Britain making a commitment to take a unilateral role as a peacemonger. We can do that in the context of multilateral treaties. It does not require the agreement of someone else to take that first moral step—it requires us to have the courage to do so.

It is for Britain to lead the debate—to say that if the world is looking for stability and security in the uncertain century that we have entered, we shall have to find them through non-military means. If Britain does not want to be perceived as part of the problem, and as part of the threat posed by rogue states that sign treaties that they have no intention of honouring, we should not act as a rogue state.

Peggy would tell me that that is what she expected those of us who are currently active in the peace movement to say in the debate about the new peace movement that is needed for the 21st century. However, she would also say that she expected Parliament to do more than we do at present, by making a non-military, non-nuclear presumption that there are world solutions to poverty, instability and famine, rather than by adopting the notion of simply opening up space as a dimension within which we would be complicit in the perpetration of warmongering.

6.24 pm
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

I congratulate the Select Committee on producing such a well-rounded report that gets to the heart of this important issue. The report left no stone unturned; it looked comprehensively into the threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and at the ways in which that threat could be countered; it looked into the major treaties and conventions, controls and agreements; and it looked into some new initiatives that are meant to counter the threat.

Hon. Members will inevitably have different views on aspects of the report. I recognise the refreshing honesty of the hon. Members for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), and the genuinely held views of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge).

No one can doubt the thoroughness with which the Select Committee approached these complex subjects. I therefore warmly applaud its work and especially that of its distinguished Chairman, the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson).

The speeches this afternoon have been universally thoughtful and reflect original thinking. We agree with many of the Committee's recommendations—for example, on the need to play an active role in international efforts to curb the proliferation of small arms. However, in the short time available I should like to focus my remarks on the broad issues of weapons proliferation and ballistic missile defence, especially in view of recent important developments—most notably, the new Administration in Washington.

Such a debate is not new. More than a decade ago, when talking about the need to counter the emerging threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, former United States Senator Sam Nunn said: We ought to let the facts speak for themselves. So what are the facts? The Select Committee notes scepticism in some quarters about the extent of the threat posed by the possible acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by so-called rogue states.

Overall, I agree with the view of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) that the threat of global nuclear war is now smaller than in the past. I certainly recognise that various treaties have played an important role in that, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South—West (Dr. Starkey) said. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the United States Defence Department has estimated that at least 30 countries now possess, or are in the process of acquiring and developing, capabilities to inflict mass casualties and destruction, using nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, or the means to deliver them.

The Select Committee notes some of the possible threats. Despite improvements on the Korean peninsula, to which the right hon. Member for Swansea, East referred, and irrespective of whether we label North Korea a rogue state or merely a state of concern, it is believed that the country has been building and selling long-range missiles, has chemical and biological warfare capabilities and may have diverted fissile material from nuclear weaponry.

Iran, with foreign assistance, is buying and developing longer-range missiles, already has chemical weapons and is seeking nuclear and biological capabilities. This week, Russia and Iran signed their first co-operation pact since the 1979 revolution in Iran. Does the Minister share the concern that that may open a door to Iran's acquiring advanced conventional weapons and sensitive military technology?

Mr. Savidge

Many hon. Members are anxious about the very fact that Russia and Iran are having those discussions, perhaps as a response to their concerns about national missile defence. That is why many of us are worried that NMD may increase proliferation, rather than reduce it.

Mr. Spring

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, which he also made in his speech, but I disagree with him, and I shall address the issue in a moment.

Iraq, which had developed chemical and biological weapons and associated delivery means and was close to having a nuclear capability before the 1991 Gulf war, may have reconstituted those efforts since the departure of the United Nations inspectors from Iraq in late 1998. On 25 February, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported Iraq's success in systematically cheating international controls to build up an arsenal of chemical weapons and a missile capability that could hit targets in Europe.

I shall echo the extremely clear and articulate theme taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and say that also looming on the horizon is the prospect that such terror weapons will increasingly find their way into the hands of individuals and groups of fanatical terrorists or self-proclaimed apocalyptic prophets. The followers of bin Laden have, in fact, already been trained with toxic chemicals.

Regrettably, it is all too clear that a nation that wants to develop ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction can now obtain extensive technical assistance from outside sources. So, despite our counter-proliferation policies, our efforts have merely slowed, not stopped, such proliferation. When the anti-ballistic missile treaty was signed in 1972, only nine nations had a ballistic missile capability. Today, almost 30 years later, more than 30 nations have such a capability. The post-cold war environment has proved more open to proliferation activities.

Indeed, the Prince Minister has described nuclear proliferation as one of the most difficult problems that the world faces", and said that we underestimate its significance at our peril. The historical perspective and the dangers were well illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).

What is the Government's answer to the problem? The Foreign Affairs Committee states: By contrast with the USA, the UK Government acknowledges the threats generated by WMD proliferation but does not appear compelled to take defensive action. That position is worth noting, but the other two positions are a great deal clearer. In Europe, as hon. Members have rightly observed, there is strong opposition to current US thinking on ballistic defence, notably on some of the grounds that we have heard in the debate—such as the alleged contravention of the ABM treaty. Indeed, some Ministers—notably the former Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, now the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, and perhaps even the Foreign Secretary—share such views. However, do they really believe that missile defences present a bigger threat to world peace than despotic states armed with weapons of mass destruction? The US position is also clear. Since the Select Committee wrote its report, the change of Administration in the US has led to an even firmer stance in favour of missile defence.

Ballistic missile defence—global missile defence as opposed to national missile defence—has significant potential advantages for Britain. It would provide protection for the UK civilian population from the growing dangers posed by missile proliferation, thereby providing insurance against the failure of our nuclear and conventional deterrents. It would provide protection for UK expeditionary forces in a much-changed security landscape and it would provide a similar assurance to our American ally. If Europeans wish the US to be committed to international engagement, it is in Europe's interest for America to feel secure. Ballistic missile defence could also provide the most promising element in a new approach to arms control.

Dr. Starkey

Will the hon. Gentleman pursue the logic of one of his points? Was he suggesting that, in the hypothetical case in which British troops are operating abroad and are threatened by a non-nuclear power, he would use our nuclear weapons against that state?

Mr. Spring

The whole point of having a deterrent is to deter. We have a global role and we wish to have the capability to back that up directly and indirectly. That is the point that I am making.

On this issue, I part company with the Select Committee's conclusions. Britain should seize the opportunity to influence US thinking and should do so in Britain's interests. However, the current UK Government remain attached to keeping quiet for fear of upsetting one faction or another within their own political party. Therefore, there has been no proper response to the dangers posed by the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction other than the promise to intensify the diplomatic means that have already proved inadequate.

The Government claim that they do not need to take a decision because the type of system that the White House wants still has to be decided. However, the issue is not the type of system but the principle of missile defence, on which the US is firmly decided. What is needed is a firm statement of support for this principle, and I hope very much that the Minister will provide that today.

The Foreign Secretary was reported as saying in The Daily Telegraph on 5 February: This is an American debate and it's for the Americans to come to conclusions as to whether or not they believe a"— ballistic missile defence— system will enhance their security"—. He was wrong. The developments that potentially threaten US security could also threaten UK security. It is for Britain to determine whether ballistic missile defence can enhance our security. It is irresponsible to continue to ignore the opportunity to shape and influence such a crucial debate. A programme will probably be developed, on which British lives and interests may come to depend. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) observed in a thoughtful contribution, we are not required to pick up the bill for all development work at this stage.

Conservatives have made it clear that we will take a lead in building support in Europe for co-operating with the United States on the development of ballistic missile defences.

Mr. Savidge

Is the hon. Gentleman supporting what the shadow Defence Secretary said on the "Today" programme when he acknowledged that the Conservatives expect to pick up a bill for the system in due course?

Mr. Spring

We have made it plain that we wish to co-operate with the United States Administration. We want to be closely involved in the discussions and the process. At this stage, the costs are subjective. However, it is important that we co-operate because it is in our national interest to do so. In view of the fact that the United States has serious doubts about the European Union's defence capabilities, it is crucial that this country co-operates closely with the United States at this critical stage.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

It would be disingenuous—or, perhaps, even worse—if we were to indulge in the discussion that the hon. Gentleman describes without having made the financial provision necessary to participate in a system of NMD, should that come about.

Mr. Spring

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the Americans will go ahead with the system. They have made it clear that they will finance it. Conservatives will discuss the extent and quality of our relationship with them when we win the next general election.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Look-even he is laughing.

Mr. Spring

I am not laughing. However, it is good to see laughter on such solemn faces and to hear the hon. Gentleman, who is not usually so quiescent. He has been uncharacteristically mute throughout the debate and I am pleased that he has sprung to life.

We have a golden opportunity jointly to face the threat of the 21st-century menace. It would be wrong to decline it. I conclude by paying tribute to a remarkably high-quality and informative Select Committee report, which, in many respects, will act as a benchmark for discussions on important issues.

6.38 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

It has been a good debate, which was rounded off nicely by the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) referring to the outcome of the next general election, whenever that might be. It was worth waiting to see that laugh pass across his face when he spoke about winning it. That brightened up the evening.

I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. All Members who contributed to the debate agreed that the report is a substantial and penetrating work, which I welcome. I do not say that simply because almost every recommendation supports or commends the Government's policies, but because in producing the report, the Committee has focused attention on one of the key security challenges facing the international community today. The debate has performed the same function, so I welcome it, too.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a key security challenge. It is important, when we debate the options, that we do not forget the circumstances. We are acutely aware of what we seek to counter.

The good news is that since the end of the cold war, one threat has been dramatically reduced—that of a strategic nuclear exchange between superpowers. Russia and the United States have made major reductions in their nuclear weapons stockpiles and continue to discuss further cuts. We see that as a very high priority, and we continue to urge other nuclear weapons states to follow our lead by reducing their arsenals to the lowest possible levels. Ten years after the cold war ended, we can also see more clearly the new security threats that are emerging. As many hon. Members have recognised, those threats are more complex but they pose no less of a challenge. The spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles that can deliver them is foremost among them. We need to reinforce our efforts to understand and deal with this new security environment.

Inevitably, there have been several references to Iraq. That is scarcely surprising because Iraq's pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in many ways symbolises the new threats that we face. The Government and the Select Committee are of one mind about the continued importance of containing Saddam, and I do not need to spell out to anyone here what he is capable of, as the use of chemical weapons against his neighbours and the Iraqi people tells the whole story eloquently.

More than two years has passed since Iraq made it impossible for United Nations weapons inspectors to continue their work. No Member of the House is naive enough to believe that Iraq is not seeking to take advantage of their absence to pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It is a regime that belatedly and reluctantly admitted hiding chemical and biological weapons and missile parts in the desert, in railway tunnels and even in fridges in private homes. It is sobering to recall that UN inspectors remain unable to account for 4,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals used for chemical weapons, 610 tonnes of chemicals used in the production of the deadly nerve gas VX and some 31,000 chemical munitions. The list goes on. We cannot afford to ignore Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capacity. Britain will not abandon its efforts to persuade Iraq to meet its obligations under the relevant resolutions. To do so would not only expose Iraq's neighbours and its own people to renewed threats from chemical and biological weapons, but threaten arms control and non-proliferation efforts in the middle east more widely and around the world.

I said that Iraq is a symbol of the proliferation threat, but the Committee highlights other threats in its report. It mentions Iran, on which it shares the Government's specific concerns about reported Iranian efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. Iran is also developing long-range missiles. The Committee's view is that the reformist cause in Iran and progress in the middle east peace process are keys to ensuring that Iran abides by its non-proliferation commitments. The Government agree, which is one reason for our continued demonstration of high-level support for the reformist policies initiated by President Khatami's Government.

Mr. Wilkinson

Everybody shares the Minister's hopes, and I am sure that all those who have read the Select Committee's excellent report are in total agreement that diplomatic and political efforts to modify the extremely dangerous policies of regimes such as those in Iran and Iraq are essential. Is it not also the case, however, that wise democratic states, such as the United States and ourselves, ought to take precautionary measures of a defensive kind against the offensive technologies being designed by Iran and Iraq, and ballistic missile defence is therefore a wholly wise and sensible policy?

Mr. Wilson

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman expects, I shall come to that aspect of the debate. No one would suggest that it is not prudent to have defensive policies. Much of the debate has concerned the nature of those policies, and in a few moments I shall set out the Government's thinking.

I remind hon. Members that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office last month became the first British Cabinet Minister to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution. Her visit focused on drugs trafficking, but we hope that it will also be a major step in widening the range of contacts on issues of mutual concern. Discussion of non-proliferation issues with Iran is an important part of that dialogue.

The Select Committee expressed concern about the situation in south Asia. I am grateful for its recognition and backing for our efforts to support India and Pakistan in turning back from the dangerous path that they have chosen. We regret that progress, as measured against the requirements of Security Council resolution 1172, remains negligible. We are particularly concerned that neither country has yet made any move to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty. Britain, with like-minded countries, will not relax its efforts to promote compliance with Security Council resolution 1172. We shall continue to take every suitable opportunity to press our concerns on the Indian and Pakistani Governments. We shall also continue to encourage them to resolve the issues that still divide them.

Finally, on regional issues, the Select Committee highlighted North Korea, to which a number of references have been scattered through our debate. The Government have supported strongly the efforts of the United States to halt North Korea's nuclear and ballistic programmes, thereby putting an end to destabilising North Korean missile exports. With our European partners, we are providing practical support for those efforts through the European Union's participation in the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation, KEDO.

Progress in relations between the two Koreas, and between North Korea and the United States of America, enabled us to establish formal diplomatic relations with Pyongyang last year. We have made it clear to the North Koreans that we expect our advanced dialogue with them to address proliferation issues. Recently, we have seen an increase in North Korean rhetoric against the new American Administration, including threats to unfreeze its nuclear programme and end its moratorium on missile testing, which is deeply disturbing. We do not want last year's progress to be reversed, so we urge North Korea to choose engagement, not isolation.

I turn to missile defence, on which we have had a high-quality debate within a debate, especially in response to the Select Committee's in-depth examination of the subject. I should like to touch first on the threat, because we should not lose that focus. Our concerns about missile proliferation are significant and growing. Forty countries have some sort of ballistic missile, 19 countries produce cruise missiles, and 50 countries have acquired cruise missiles. Those lists continue to grow. Many of those countries have weapons of mass destruction skills and capabilities, including countries in regions of great tension. Yet missile capabilities are developing beyond levels that seem reasonable for purposes of self-defence. The pursuit of longer-range missiles is of particular concern because it raises the spectre of a truly global threat.

Since publication of the Select Committee report, the United States has elected a new President, who has made clear his commitment to a missile defence system. In response to the different views expressed by hon. Members in our debate, I should like to set out our position on American plans. In doing so, it may help if I put missile defence in context. President Bush has emphasised that his proposals for a limited missile defence arise from concerns about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. It is intended to counter threats from countries that cause concern and from accidental launches. President Bush has said that missile defence is one defensive element of the United States response to that proliferation. It will supplement, not supplant, other ways of reducing the threat.

We share American concerns about such proliferation and recognise the role that missile defences can play as one part of a strategy to obstruct and deter it. However, it is important to recognise that President Bush has made it clear that no decisions have been taken on the development or deployment of a specific missile defence system. He has emphasised that, before coming to a decision, the US will want to consult NATO allies, Russia and others.

We welcome that approach. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government will continue to work closely with the American Administration as they develop their thinking. We will do so as close allies with common strategic interests. Deeply felt concerns have been expressed today about the possible implications of missile defence which, of course, we recognise. The aim is to find a way through that addresses those concerns and United States objectives. In our view, such a way through is most likely to be achieved—this goes back to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East at the beginning of the debate—through constructive engagement with the United States. That is the course that we are taking and urging others to take. Consultation, not confrontation, should be the way ahead. The same approach is urged upon us by the Committee.

Some Members have spoken today about a new arms race, and those fears are understandable. There were interesting comments from the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), and concerns were expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and others, but those fears need not be realised.

President Bush has spoken of his wish to reduce substantially the number of US nuclear weapons, and has directed the Pentagon to review that area of policy. Doubtless, the focus of that review will be to establish the defence rationale—to quote the phrase used by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling—that underlies the proposal. That is a pertinent question. We applaud the review, which should be an important step in progress towards the Committee's hope for reductions by all nuclear weapons states to minimum deterrent levels.

The issue of the use of facilities in the United Kingdom was raised by several hon. Members. As President Bush has made clear, it is too early to determine whether US plans will involve sites in this country. Any possible request will not be identifiable until after the President has considered his options and determined which type of system, if any, to develop. It would clearly be premature to speculate on what the US may propose.

Missile defence gets the lion's share of media attention, but it is important to remember that there are other tools in the counter-proliferation armoury. Multilaterally, we support the missile technology control regime, which co-ordinates export controls against missile proliferation. It has been a success over the years, but export controls cannot do the whole job. Britain was therefore one of the initiators of work among MTCR members to develop a draft international code of conduct against ballistic missile proliferation.

The code, which was adopted by all MTCR members in October last year, offers a set of confidence-building measures, including verification, aimed at promoting transparency in respect of missiles. We are engaged with our partners in promoting the draft code more widely among the international community. We hope that it will be formalised and adopted before too long. It could eventually form the first step towards an international instrument against missile proliferation, joining the other multilateral treaties about which my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) spoke.

In its report, the Committee examined the performance of various international instruments, including the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the chemical weapons convention and the biological and toxin weapons convention. It made a number of recommendations, and I am happy to say that the Government agree with the thrust of all of them. The non-proliferation treaty is the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. It is easy to forget that in the 1960s it was commonly assumed that, by the end of the 20th century, the number of states deploying nuclear weapons would be well over a score. The fact that that nightmare has not come to pass is due in no small part to the non-proliferation treaty.

The achievement of last year's NPT review conference in reaching consensus on a final document was a considerable achievement. It was the first time that that had happened since 1985. I welcome the Committee's recognition of that achievement and the part played in it by the UK. I pay tribute to the personal role of my predecessor, now the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain).

We are engaged in seeking to implement the agreements reached in New York last year. I have already referred to the need for further reductions in Russian and US arsenals. Our other priorities must be the implementation of the comprehensive test ban treaty and the start of negotiations in the conference on disarmament on a fissile material cut-off treaty. It is disappointing that discussions in Geneva remain deadlocked on that issue.

I am conscious that I should leave a few minutes at the end for my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East, so I shall say a quick word about the chemical weapons convention and the biological and toxin weapons convention. The CWC remains a landmark arms control treaty—the first occasion on which an entire category of weapons was prohibited on a verifiable basis. It has proved successful. Only four years after coming into force, 143 states are party to it. The Foreign Affairs Committee urges the pursuit of universality and the Government agree. We continue to urge all non-signatories to ratify the convention, especially those in regions of tension such as the middle east. The European Union is conducting a renewed round of diplomatic lobbying to that end.

The chemical weapons convention is a good model. Its success has prompted the international community to open negotiations on a protocol to the biological and toxin weapons convention to improve confidence and compliance and to deter potential proliferators.

I have described the importance that we place on the international conventions, which have proved their worth over the years. However, we are not starry eyed. We support universality, but we realise that some states will always choose to remain outside the mainstream. We support robust verification provisions, but Iraq showed that the determined proliferator can evade the most intrusive inspections. We therefore continue to place importance on rigorous enforcement of export controls on items that are related to weapons of mass destruction and on multilateral co-ordination of such controls through, for example, the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

In answer to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde made about a successful outcome of the conference on small arms and light weapons, we firmly support Sir Michael Weston as the UK and EU candidate for the conference chair. That issue should be resolved soon—if possible, by the end of the third meeting of the preparatory committee in New York later this month. That is all I can say about small arms in my winding-up remarks.

We have had a good, comprehensive debate, with extremely informed contributions from all parties. Again, I pay tribute to the Committee's work. I undertake to write to hon. Members about any points that I have not tackled.

6.56 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson

There is no opportunity to refer to colleagues' specific speeches, but I am confident that the debate has fully justified the Select Committee's decision to embark on our project and update the work of our predecessors in 1995. The quality of debate has been high. Our job was to provide an informed basis for the debate, and I pay tribute to all who have participated. I shall enjoy reading many of the contributions.

There has been consensus, with perhaps two exceptions. The problem was clearly stated. The certainties of the cold war period have ended, and we face new, more complex threats. We must decide how best to respond to the gamut of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

National missile defence understandably dominated the debate. Its deployment is not imminent; the new proposals that are under review by the United States Administration will take considerable time. Indeed, deployment is not inevitable, although there is considerable steam behind the project in the US.

Such deployment would have substantial implications. With the end of mutually assured destruction, there is a danger that the US might consider itself invulnerable. It was pointed out in the debate that the US proposals do not cover a series of vulnerabilities. The Government can buy time because the US has not concluded its review or made a request to use RAF Fylingdales and upgrade its radar capacity.

There is hope of some convergence and movement, for example in the case of China and Russia. The Russian proposals that were made to the Secretary General of NATO a few weeks ago suggest that Russia is at least prepared to enter into debate.

Our final hope is that the Government have understood the anxieties. There is danger of general misunderstanding. Our report's conclusion on NMD states: We recommend that the Government articulate the very strong concerns that have been expressed about NMD within the UK…We recommend that the Government encourage the USA to seek other ways of reducing the threats it perceives. The debate shows that that is relevant, and I hope that—

It being Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(4) and (5).

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That resources, not exceeding £410,620,000, be authorised, on account, for use during the year ending on 31st March 2002, and that a sum, not exceeding £508,690,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, for the year ending on 31st March 2002 for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It being after Seven o' clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 55(1) and (3) (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.) and Order [27 February].