HL Deb 06 April 2004 vol 659 cc1715-8

11.20 a.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take in response to the selling of military nuclear technology by Pakistani officials to certain states.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have discussed this matter in some detail with the Government of Pakistan, who are continuing their investigations into the issue of the transfer of nuclear technology to other states. They have undertaken to let Her Majesty's Government know the outcome of their investigations. Any specific action taken against individuals involved is a matter for the Government of Pakistan to pursue.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Can she explain how it is that we are prepared to invade Iraq in the name of keeping WMD out of the wrong hands yet meanwhile General Musharraf has allowed his cronies to sell nuclear technology to none other than North Korea, Iran and Libya? Is it not the case that he has not punished them and has not confiscated their financial gain? Is it really sufficient just to say, "Don't do it again. Tell us where this technology has gone and that is the end of the matter"?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there are quite a lot of questions there. As the noble Lord knows, we took action in Iraq because of Iraq's continued defiance of the international community in relation to the mandatory UN Security Council resolutions which had been passed; in particular, Security Council Resolution 1441 made that clear in relation to Resolutions 678 and 687.

The noble Lord used somewhat inflammatory language. I do not think that there is any proof that General Musharraf allowed those things to happen. He says that he was in ignorance of what was going on. AQ Khan has also said that the Government were in ignorance of what was going on. The important point is that so far the pardon has been in relation to the declaration made by AQ Khan about the countries to which sales were made. There is no declaration that such a pardon would be extended if other information turned up as a result of the investigations now in progress.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House within primarily which multilateral framework we are pursuing the lessons of this? After all, there were Malaysian links and Gulf States links, and a number of European companies were selling dual-use technology without being clear about its end use. If it is a matter of tightening EU export controls on dual use technology, how actively is that being pursued within the IAEA?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord asked within which multilateral fora we are pursuing this issue. We must first look at the results of the investigations. We know that a network of businessmen in commercial centres ranging from south Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Far East was involved. The investigation being pursued in Pakistan is therefore very broadly based.

It is important to remind ourselves that the discovery came about because of critical engagement between this country—and, indeed, others—and Iran and Libya. That enabled the IAEA to go into those countries, to carry out investigations, to see the extent of their nuclear capability and to refer back to Pakistan. The point is that it is such critical engagement with countries that might have WMD that allows the IAEA to go into those countries. That is of vital importance in pursuing these issues.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that since the publication in 1945 by the American Government of the Smyth report entitled Atomic Energy for Military Purposes, the methods of making nuclear weapons have been well known? The technical problems of making a nuclear weapon which detonates at the right time in the right place are immense. There are probably only six countries in the world with a safe and reliable nuclear weapon capability, and Pakistan is not among them.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not claim to have that detailed knowledge of the technology of nuclear weapons. This is not just a question of the means of creating and exploding a device but a question of the means of delivery. The noble Lord will recall another issue in relation to the Iraqi question to which the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, referred; that is, missile technology. The issue here is about knowledge and capability which was stolen from Urenco in the 1970s and the way in which AQ Khan has now said that he sold on that information specifically to North Korea, Libya and Iran.

I cannot say whether the noble Lord is right in his surmise about there being only six countries in the world with this capability. I am sure we all hope that he is right, but the issue here is to get as many countries as possible to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty. That is the means by which this Government are pursuing this issue and by which we believe other governments of good will across the world should do the same.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, when were UK Ministers first aware of the open marketing by Mr Khan of nuclear technologies as outlined in the recent Jane's Defence Weekly report?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, when I was preparing for this Question, I said to officials, "I bet that someone will ask me when Ministers were first aware". I cannot answer that because I do not know. However, on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House there has been discussion about the way in which nuclear knowledge may or may not have been passed from one country to another. What is revealed here is a very specific and clear indication from AQ Khan that that began in 1970. However, even if I did know the answer to the question asked by the noble Earl, I rather doubt that I would be willing to give it in an open forum such as this. Doing so might well prejudice the intelligence operation of this country.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, pursuant to the second answer given to my noble friend Lord Lamont, is the Minister aware that the Government have accepted and published the Cory report on events in Northern Ireland and that Judge Cory in the course of those reports took the view that senior officers who had in his view been inactive were guilty of collusion in the security forces' accusations and crimes, and yet those senior officers were not interviewed? Does the Minister think that that marches well with her answer to my noble friend about President Musharraf?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the question of how General Musharraf decided to deal with this issue is a matter for him as the President of Pakistan dealing with a very particular issue which has arisen in relation to Pakistan. The noble Lord may well wish to pursue his concerns about the Cory report, and I am sure that in your Lordships' House he has ample opportunity to do so. However, I remind him that this specific Question deals with issues which have arisen in Pakistan.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, can my noble friend perhaps take us back a little? We seem to be making all sorts of deductions. However, is not the most important deduction to be made the fact that had this Government not been having positive dialogue bilaterally with Libya and multilaterally with Iran, we would not have received all the information which has led to the present dialogue with Pakistan? When can we look forward to a similar initiative being taken with North Korea so that we can get rid of the third part of what was once called the "axis of evil"?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Tomlinson. I have a touching faith in your Lordships' House. I had hoped, obviously somewhat forlornly, that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, would recognise that it is because of Her Majesty's Government's policy of critical engagement with Iran and Libya that we were enabled to see the IAEA going into both countries and undertaking the necessary inspections which led to the unmasking of the activities of AQ Khan.

Her Majesty's Government, along with other governments, have been the means of achieving a considerable breakthrough in this respect. I, for my part, want to pursue this policy of critical engagement. As a Minister with responsibility for nonproliferation, I think that we have been able to get a great deal further through this policy than through some of the other policies that have been pursued in the past.

Forward to