HL Deb 11 November 1999 vol 606 cc1444-5

3.22 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the United Nations' and United States Government's efforts to bring North Korea within the system of international treaties so as to control weapons of mass destruction.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, North Korea acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1985 and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1987. It has not signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the Chemical Weapons Convention. We and our allies use every opportunity to urge it to do so. The United Kingdom also supports the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO), and the efforts of the United States to persuade North Korea to end its destabilising missile proliferation activities.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that reply. She will be very well aware of the profound concern in Japan, South Korea and elsewhere about the possible destabilising effects of the long-range missile production programme of North Korea. Therefore, before the bilateral American-North Korean meetings in Berlin on 15th November, can the noble Baroness confirm that the EU will continue to finance the KEDO operation in view of the extreme importance of ensuring that plutonium production is not resumed in North Korea? Further, can the Minister say whether she and the Government fully support the new engagement policy of South Korea, which seems to indicate some hope of reducing the very dangerous tensions in the region?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am happy to be able to say yes to both those questions from he noble Baroness, Lady Williams. We and our allies are doing all we can to persuade North Korea to renounce weapons of mass destruction and become law-abiding members of the international community. As the noble Baroness will know, the development and testing by North Korea of long-range missiles, which could be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction, is also a matter of international concern. There are no international treaties to prevent such activities, but we applaud efforts by the US to persuade North Korea to exercise restraint and, in particular, welcome the agreement reached in September for North Korea to freeze its missile tests while talks with the US continue. We most warmly welcome the fact that South Korea is coming to the table at this crucial time.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, in the light of what the Minister has said about the fact that North Korea already possesses weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them over long distances, can she tell us what is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the provision of defence against these missiles to protect both ourselves and our allies in the event that all these arms control and non-proliferation agreements come to nothing?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have not taken the view that that would be an appropriate way forward. Nuclear disarmament is very much key to this Government's policy. We are pursuing with vigour general disarmament and trying to encourage all our allies to engage with us in that regard.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, bearing in mind the fact that at the beginning of the Korean War this country introduced prescription charges in the free National Health Service of its day—which currently raise some £400 million for the service—and the fact that this country now spends £1,000 million a year on nuclear weapons, can my noble friend the Minister suggest to her colleagues that, when North Korea signs up to these treaties, the UK Government might take the opportunity to cut our nuclear arsenals in half and eliminate prescription charges in the National Health Service?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as I believe I told the House on a previous occasion, Her Majesty's Government have already reduced this country's nuclear capacity. We have also become a leader in terms of transparency. I am afraid that little reliance can be placed upon the Koreans signing any treaty; indeed, we know that they have reneged on virtually all of them in the past. So we have no comfort in that quarter.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House to which countries North Korea has exported long-range missile technology in the past few years? Can she also tell us to which countries North Korea has exported nuclear weapons technology?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the information in that regard is something upon which I think it would be more appropriate for me to write to the noble Viscount.

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