HL Deb 19 March 1998 vol 587 cc813-6

3.16 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will examine the possibility that the time is ripe for the establishment of an international peace police under the jurisdiction of the United Nations with duties to include the verification and enforcement of the conventions banning chemical and biological weapons and the observance of agreements relating to nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Government see no need for a police force of that nature under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. The verification of compliance with existing treaties and conventions on weapons of mass destruction should be carried out in accordance with the provisions contained in the relevant treaty or convention.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind what the situation would be in any country—for example, this one—if there were no police force to ensure that the law is observed as a matter of course, and nothing between the population as a whole and the military? So long as the present position remains, and enforcement is exclusively the task of the military, is not the danger always present—as has been seen recently in the Gulf—of a war developing, possibly even ending in a third world war? What are the methods to which she referred just now which are currently in place?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe that it is difficult to see how such a peace police will be set up. It is hard to see what its remit would be, and reaching agreement on the issues would be difficult and consuming of time and effort. The Chemical Weapons Convention is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague; the Biological Weapons Convention is administered by review conferences of the states parties which take place every four or five years. The Chemical Weapons Convention is bound by inspectors who go into various countries. We are not happy with the inspections under the Biological Weapons Convention, which is why the UK is using the presidency to try to ensure that verification procedures on biological weapons comparable to those for chemical weapons are in place.

Lord Garel-Jones

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, seems to fit neatly within the ethical framework that the Foreign Secretary has set out for British foreign policy? On that subject, will she inform the House what are the improvements that the Government have detected in the human rights record of China that have led them not to support the UN resolution on human rights in China this year as their predecessors did?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government will take lessons from anyone over questions of ethics. The best approach to my noble friend's Question is to strengthen the existing regimes in order to fill in the gaps, as I indicated we are seeking to do in our presidency.

As regards China, the noble Lord really must read his Hansard. The other evening I was able to tell his noble friend Lord Moynihan of eight separate improvements which have been made in China since October last year when we began the dialogue process.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, perhaps we may return closer to the Question. Will the Minister accept that there are severe problems in obtaining properly qualified inspectors to search for biological and chemical weapons? The experience of Iraq shows that too many inspectors came from too few countries. Do the Government have any plans to assist other countries in training inspectors for such international duties in order to spread the burden more widely?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords. I do not accept that too few nationalities were involved in the inspections in Iraq. Of the 44 inspectors who were regularly used to inspect sites in Iraq, 17—I repeat, 17—different nations were represented.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, is not national sovereignty becoming bad for our health? Has my noble friend noticed the next Question on the Order Paper? As with every year which passes there is fresh evidence that nuclear and biological weapons are falling into irresponsible hands, is it not now urgent that we should work for a global convention making them unlawful in any hands and committing the whole international community to enforcing that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, my noble and learned friend will not be surprised to know that I have indeed noticed the next Question on the Order Paper as it is for me to answer!

The United Kingdom Government believe in universal adherence to and compliance with both the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. As I said, we have detected shortcomings in the second convention, which is why we are eagerly pursuing improvements to it. As to the longer term, suggestions about examining these issues will be considered appropriately by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, will the Minister accept that some of us are puzzled by the Question? If such an international peace force is to be armed, it would be a new procedure and departure which would place armed forces under the direct jurisdiction of the United Nations. If the force is not to be armed, is there anything that it can do that is not already done through the sanctions of the Security Council, the administration of the various treaties and, more importantly, the activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I said to my noble friend Lord Jenkins, Her Majesty's Government find it difficult to see the argument to institute the kind of peace police which he suggests. The idea of such a force to verify compliance with international treaties and conventions has not, so far as we know, ever been raised through the United Nations. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, indicated, we do not believe that it would be practical. We believe that it would duplicate arrangements under existing weapons of mass destruction treaties and for that reason we are unable to support my noble friend's suggestion.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, can the Government see any advantage in controlling chemical and biological weapons in those countries which are susceptible to control and doing nothing in those countries which are not susceptible to control?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the difficulty is that it is only possible for us to have inspections in the countries which have already signed in particular the Chemical Weapons Convention. The noble Lord is right in saying that all our efforts should be bent upon encouraging other countries to sign up to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which we believe is a fairly solid convention with good verification procedures. However, we need to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and then to encourage all countries to sign up to it.