HL Deb 12 October 1994 vol 557 cc889-90

3 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What arrangements are being made with other governments to prevent unauthorised transactions in plutonium or uranium from the former Soviet Union which could be used to make nuclear weapons.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, this is a matter of great concern, which we are taking very seriously. We believe that a well co-ordinated international response is vital if the problem is to be tackled effectively. We are actively involved in discussions now under way in a number of international fora to achieve that aim.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. It is imperative that nuclear weapons do not fall into the hands of irresponsible regimes or of terrorists. Will my noble friend confirm that in this matter the Governments of Russia and the other new states are co-operating fully with the West?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, this matter is being discussed in a number of international fora, some of which involve the Russian and other East European governments. On 19th September President Yeltsin signed a decree which was intended to strengthen Russian controls on stocks of nuclear materials. Our aim is to achieve a co-ordinated international response to the problem. There is no evidence that any national government have been trying to obtain nuclear material in this way.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, given that the UK is the current chairman of a group of plutonium-producing countries of which Russia is also a member, and in the light of the extremely serious potential threat posed by the smuggling of plutonium from Russia, will the Government consider taking the lead in establishing an internationally-sponsored nuclear safety fund which is aimed at improving security at Russian nuclear installations?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, this matter is under consideration. The material that was seized is being examined by the German authorities. We cannot comment in detail on where it may have come from. However, the most important aspect is that no stone will be left unturned in ensuring that all the necessary safeguards are put in place. I shall consider further what the noble Baroness said.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in view of alterations in the immigration rules of this country following recent Community decisions, will the Minister assure the House that the Government have in place sufficient means of surveillance at all ports of entry in this country so that we can do our proper share in apprehending people who are connected with the Russian and Italian Mafias in this regard?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am sure that I can give that assurance to the noble Lord. Britain already has contacts with officials and scientists in many other countries, including the former Soviet Union and our partners in the European Union. We will use all those contacts to address not only the issues of accounting and security of nuclear material but also the passage of persons who might have been involved.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, as President Yeltsin recently proposed further reductions in nuclear weapons, and as living conditions in former Soviet nuclear establishments are reported to have deteriorated alarmingly, with acute shortages of food and money, can anything be done internationally to provide the redundant scientists and technicians with alternative livelihoods and useful work?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for asking that question. Through the Overseas Development Administration we are already helping. The United Kingdom, together with other countries including the United States and Japan, has supported the international science and technology centre in Moscow which is designed precisely for the purpose that my noble friend outlined; that is, to provide the relevant research activities for former nuclear scientists. The Moscow centre is already up and running and more than 100 scientists are involved. We hope also to have a centre in Kiev before long.