HL Deb 29 April 1993 vol 545 cc505-11

7.35 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th February be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the order is to extend certain privileges and immunities set out in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to men and women carrying out observation flights over the United Kingdom under the Treaty on Open Skies.

The collapse of the Iron Curtain has brought remarkable progress in building security and confidence between East and West in Europe, and in particular in lessening the risk of surprise attack. Your Lordships will recall that that has been given substance in the CFE (Conventional Armed Forces in Europe) Treaty which is deeply reducing holdings of major conventional weapons systems, the CFEIA Concluding Act which caps military personnel strengths and the 1992 Vienna Document with its basket of confidence and security building measures.

President Eisenhower put forward the notion of an agreement under which states would be able to fly over one another's territories and collect information on their military capabilities and activities as long ago as the 1955 Geneva Summit. It has been the thaw in the cold war however which has seen the idea bear fruit since President Bush renewed the proposal in May 1989.

The Treaty on Open Skies was negotiated by NATO member states and the countries of the former Warsaw Pact and signed on 24th March 1992 in Helsinki between the 16 allies, the five former East European members of the Warsaw Pact and Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. Kirgizstan has since become the 26th signatory.

Open skies will enter into force 60 days after at least 20 of the states parties have ratified. The United Kingdom, along with the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Ukraine and Turkey, must ratify before the treaty can come into effect. Any of the other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Republics which have not yet joined the treaty can do so at any time. Once the treaty is in force further applications may be considered: for the first six months by any other Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) state and thereafter by other states irrespective of geographical location, if they are able and willing to contribute to the objectives of open skies. Such applications will require the consent of existing states parties to the treaty.

The treaty will provide a tool which will enhance ability to monitor compliance with and thereby further the objectives of current and future arms control regimes. Open skies may also prove a valuable resource in crisis monitoring and conflict prevention. Open skies therefore both complements and supplements existing arms control agreements. It picks up the threads of military transparency, of openness and of trust with which they are knitted and extends them. The open skies will not be bounded by the Atlantic and Urals but will take in the northern hemisphere from Vancouver to Vladivostock.

The essence of the treaty is confidence and security. Hence its detailed provisions are rigorous yet balanced and equitable. The articles dealing with observation aircraft, flight quotas, conduct of flights, sensors and data exchange are crafted accordingly.

Under the treaty each party has the right to designate one or more aircraft types for use as observation aircraft. To ensure that they comply with the requirements of the treaty and that the sensors carried are those agreed, all such aircraft must first undergo a strict certification examination. An observed state has the right to provide its own choice of designated aircraft for a flight over its territory. However, if the observed state chooses to exercise that right, the observing country is able to ensure full compliance with the treaty and proper functioning of the sensors through the presence on board of its own observers.

Every state party to the treaty has agreed a figure, known as its "passive inspection quota", which indicates how many observation flights it commits itself to receive each year. In common with France, Germany and Italy we have agreed to receive up to 12 flights a year from the end of the 36 month "phase in" period. Prior to that parties will receive 75 per cent. of their quota—a maximum of nine flights in the case of the United Kingdom.

Each country's entitlement to conduct observation flights, known as its "active inspection quota", is in principle equal to its passive quota. In other words, each state party can choose how many of its permitted flights it actually uses.

Clearly a key factor in the effectiveness of the open skies treaty in promoting confidence is the ability to conduct observation flights at short notice. Hence only 72 hours' notice of intent to conduct a flight is required. The element of unpredictability is further enhanced by limiting advance warning of the route of the flight to as little as 24 hours.

A particularly significant feature of open skies is that it extends to the entire territory of all states parties. The only restriction to that is that observation flights will not be permitted to approach closer than 10 kilometres to borders with states that are not themselves parties to the treaty. Furthermore, states parties may not restrict observation flights on grounds of national security but only for legitimate flight safety reasons. At all times open skies flights will enjoy precedence over normal air traffic.

Four types of sensors are permitted by the treaty; these are optical and video cameras, infra red line scanners and synthetic aperture radar. The aim is that it should be possible to detect military activity in all weathers, both in daylight and darkness, and to distinguish a tank from a tractor. The data produced, contained on film negatives and magnetic tape, will be shared by the observing and observed states and made available to all other states parties, irrespective of their participation in the mission, upon payment to the observing state. The Open Skies Consultative Commission, which consists of all the signatories and is based in Vienna, is currently working on outstanding technical issues and will, after open skies comes into force, seek to resolve any issues that may arise from its implementation.

The order before your Lordships will enable the United Kingdom to give effect in domestic law to the requirements of the open skies treaty that flight crew, flight monitors and ancillary military personnel engaged on missions are granted certain diplomatic privileges and immunities. It is being made under Section 1(2) of the Arms Control and Disarmament (Privileges and Immunities) Act 1988.

The Treaty on Open Skies is another step along the path of trust, confidence and transparency that leads to a more secure future for us all. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th February be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Trumpington.)

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Baroness for that very clear exposition. It is not always that I have the good fortune to follow a Government Minister finding myself in complete agreement both with what the Government are seeking to do and with their reasons for doing it.

What the order seeks to achieve falls within an extremely narrow compass. Indeed, the Government would have been very remiss had they not sought to achieve it. I hope that I may add my support for the reasons expounded by the noble Baroness for the Government seeking to facilitate the implementation of the open skies treaty.

On these Benches we welcome the treaty for a number of reasons. First, perhaps I may be permitted a note of self-satisfaction because we in the Labour movement have called for something of this kind from the early 1980s when we repeatedly argued for the need for more confidence-building measures. Some of us can trace back our individual credentials even further. Speaking personally, I cannot go back to the period recalled by the noble Baroness —I do not suppose that she can personally—to the 1950s when this idea was suggested by President Eisenhower, but I can claim to have supported it, wearing my federalist hat, since the mid-1960s.

Therefore, this is a lesson in persistence. We make a proposal when no one wants to know. We are dismissed with the comment that it is all Utopian and that we are not living in the real world. We continue to argue the case when we are thought to be tiresome. We press home the arguments for the unfashionable idea as successive events provide object lessons. And then, one day it happens. Of course, it is tempting to point out that some of those who now take it for granted are relatively late converts. That does not matter. The prophets may have been stoned but their prophecies have been fulfilled. We must now press on with the next unfashionable crusade.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive that excursion into self-indulgence. The second and less narrow reason for welcoming the treaty is that it is a concrete, recognisable product of the CSCE process. Your Lordships may remember—indeed, the noble Baroness recalled it—that one of the major objects of the Helsinki agreement which gave rise to the CSCE process was to initiate a series of confidence-building measures; that is, measures intended to break through the barrier of mutual mistrust between what were then the Eastern and Western blocs. The purpose of that was that it had become obvious that the reason for the arms race was not that either side had anything to fear—no one wanted a war—but that neither side could be sure that if it disarmed, the other side would not seek to take treacherous advantage of that situation. Neither side wanted to adopt a threatening stance but neither side could have confidence in the good faith of the other.

What was needed was a series of measures by each side, the very purpose of which was to increase the confidence of the other in its good intentions. If there were other commendable by-products, so much the better. However, the aim was to reverse the deadly cycle of each side increasing its armaments simply because it mistrusted the other; and in the process giving the other side reason in its turn for mistrust and, therefore, causing the other side to behave in exactly the same way, further feeding the cycle of mistrust.

Those mutual confidence-building measures have progressed a long way since that first concept. They now embrace that wide spectrum of mutual co-operation in enhancing civilisation which is now comprised in the CSCE process. But still a very important factor is to ensure that the world does not again descend into the cycle of mistrust which itself leads to the giving of further grounds for mistrust.

If it is said that the open skies regime may not prove to be a very effective method of inspection, let it be clear that its major purpose is as a symbol that each state wishes to believe in the good faith of its neighbours and to demonstrate its own good faith. It is to write the word Mizpah across the textbooks of international relations.

It would be silly to claim that the open skies regime is a substitute for a comprehensive verification regime such as that envisaged, as the noble Baroness reminded us, by the CSCE agreement and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It does not make any less urgent the need for the existing nuclear powers to renounce further testing before the non-nuclear powers become tired of waiting and, one after another, develop their own nuclear weapons until the world becomes one big nuclear explosion waiting to happen.

It may be hoped that one benefit deriving from the chemical weapons convention will be to demonstrate the feasibility of global monitoring. But that is not to diminish the importance of what is happening. Perhaps I may just express a note of caution and say that one needs to recognise the possible danger. If, with the treaty open for signatures and ratification there is a substantial number of powers seen to be dragging their feet then, far from building confidence, it may serve instead to engender suspicion.

Therefore can the noble Baroness tell us—I do not think she mentioned this; but if she did I missed it—how many countries are currently signatories to the treaty and how Her Majesty's Government are encouraging others to speed up the signatory process? Although the noble Baroness very helpfully expounded on the timetable for ratifications, I wonder whether it is known when the requisite number of ratifications will have been achieved. Perhaps she can also indicate whether there are any proposals to extend a similar regime to other regions. Is there perhaps a prospect of interesting China in a similar process?

The noble Baroness referred to other matters, such as crisis management, which might be subject to a similar process. Is there any thinking of extending the open skies principle to other areas of activity—for example, pollution control? I should say at once that I have not given the noble Baroness notice of the last two questions. I shall therefore fully understand if she is not in a position to answer them tonight. But, perhaps at some stage we could be given the answers. Further, now that the international community has accepted the breakthrough and the sky has not fallen in on the world of international diplomacy, have the Government any plans to maintain the momentum?

We on this side of the House support the noble Baroness tonight without reservation. We look forward to further initiatives which we can support no less warmly.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, for his very warm welcome to the order. I very much appreciate the fact that he gave me prior notice of some of his questions. It was exceedingly good of him to do so because I know how very busy he is at present. This is the first time we have faced each other across the Dispatch Box. Let us hope that in future life will remain as felicitous.

The noble and learned Lord asked first how many countries had signed the Treaty on Open Skies. There are 27 signatories to date. Does the noble and learned Lord wish me to recite the names?

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In order not to weary the House, I would be content to receive a letter regarding the list.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I shall be delighted. I am also delighted not to have to pronounce all the names. Of the 27 countries, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Hungary and the Slovak Republic have ratified the treaty as of now. As regards the plans for ratification of the treaty, the passing of the order, and corresponding orders for the Dependent Territories, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, is essential for the UK to be able to ratify the treaty. The Dependent Territories order is due in the Privy Council in May. We expect the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man to table their legislation as a matter of high priority.

The treaty comes into force when a minimum of 20 states ratify. They must include all the big players—that is, the UK, the USA, Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Canada. The United Kingdom has no control over the speed of the ratification process in other countries, but it is to be hoped that the treaty will be in force by the end of this year.

At present, the only states able to join the treaty that have not done so are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Open Skies Consultative Commission which represents all the existing signatories has recently written to those governments encouraging them to do so. Likewise, the United Kingdom has encouraged those states to sign the treaty in our bilateral contacts with them. In the longer term, we would welcome applications from any state that demonstrates the ability and willingness to meet the objectives of the treaty in furthering trust and building confidence.

The United Kingdom has been encouraging those members of the 53-nation Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) that are not currently entitled to sign the treaty to consider applying to do so as soon as it enters into force. The Helsinki CSCE follow-up meeting in July 1992 set up a forum for security co-operation in Vienna, the FSC, and identified 14 areas in the field of arms control, confidence and security building and security enhancement in a programme for immediate action. The FSC convened in September 1992 and continues its mandated work. The target for completion is the 1994 Budapest CSCE summit.

I turn now to the control of pollution to which the noble and learned Lord referred. The use of the treaty for environmental monitoring is one future possibility recognised in the treaty. I am not sure, but I believe that he also asked about China as a passing comment.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, yes I did.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, China is not currently eligible to join because it is not a NATO or a former Warsaw Pact member—

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, I trust that the noble Baroness will forgive my further interruption. I asked whether there was any thinking about extending it to other regions and, as an example, suggested China. I am aware that, at present, China cannot join.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we do not know anything about the intentions of the Chinese once the treaty is in force. But it is up to states outside the various bodies to apply. We can do no more than look at their applications. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.58 to 8.30 p.m.]