HL Deb 02 June 2003 vol 648 cc1042-4

2.45 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How serious a threat they consider the development of uranium enrichment facilities within Iran poses.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we have longstanding concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Reports of the development of uranium enrichment facilities heighten those concerns. The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Iran in February this year. His report, presented in March, was discussed at the Board of Governors of the IAEA meeting that month. Further discussion of Iran's nuclear programme is scheduled for the next governors' meeting in June. The UK will play an active role in highlighting our concerns at that meeting.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I believe that all in this Chamber recognise that there are real concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons programme. Does she agree that to pursue this multilaterally through the International Atomic Energy Agency is the right way forward? Apparently exaggerated estimates of what is going on, put about by exiled groups in Washington, strike some of us as alarmist and perhaps sound a note of familiarity with what we have been suffering as regards Iraq in the past year. Does the Minister recognise, too, that proposals floated in the press and elsewhere in Washington that unilateral bombing by either American or Israeli fighters to take out the facilities would be something which Her Majesty's Government would immediately condemn?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, yes, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. As his Question implied, we shall pursue this matter with great seriousness through the IAEA. We look forward to Dr El-Baradei's report to the Board of Governors of the IAEA in June. We will encourage Iran to sign up to and implement the additional protocol to the IAEA safeguards agreement and urge it to be open and fully transparent with the inspectors, and to allow access to the sites.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, what action are the Government taking with the Russian Government and the former Soviet successor states to ensure that they do not supply Iran with enriched uranium?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we do not consider it appropriate for Russia to supply nuclear fuel until Iran has signed and implemented the additional protocol that I spoke of in my second answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. We would encourage Iran to sign up to it and to bring the safeguards agreement into force as soon as possible. We also welcome recent Russian assurances that it shares this view.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the core of this problem is the steady proliferation of countries which are now perfectly capable of producing enriched uranium? Can she give an indication of how many there are? We cannot simply work on the assumption that after Iraq, Iran is next and then another country after that.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I cannot give a precise answer. I shall write to the noble Lord with as precise an answer as I hope will satisfy him.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, another alarming matter about Iraq is the human rights situation. What pressure can the Government bring to stop the public executions and the stonings for adultery which are a feature of its justice?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that question, I am reminded by the Leader that it is slightly wide of the initial Question about uranium enrichment facilities. However, that has not stopped us in the past. I am pleased to say that we have seen some improvement in the Iranian human rights situation. Since President Khatami was first elected in March 1997, there have been a number of significant improvements in Iran's human rights record. However, we still have concerns. We have concerns as regards halting torture, amputations and stoning. We have concerns, too, about accusations of subjugation of some religious minorities, about freedom of expression and, to some extent, about conditions for women.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, as regards all states that decline to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect their plants, is it not possible for those states which have satellites to make available the imaging technology so that pictures of alleged clandestine sites can be examined and submitted to expert analysis in order to determine whether they contain centrifuge enrichment plants?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I always listen very carefully to what the noble Lord has to say on these matters as it is always worth doing so. I am sure that the IAEA in following up some of the accusations may well consider that course of action.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, are we not placed in rather a difficult position when the Russians are accused of being involved in the Iranian nuclear programme and when the Americans were involved in the North Korean programme? People throughout the peace movement in this country have now latched on to that issue.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, every country has to be looked at differently as regards problems with proliferation. We try to persuade countries through peaceful means as far as possible and through dialogue. That is why we have a critical engagement with Iran on this matter. Russia supplies the civil nuclear programme in Iran.