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Mr. Gerald Howarth: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I note your ruling, but may I draw to your attention the fact that, on Second Reading in another place, the Minister referred extensively to the NPT? The Bill arises out of the non-proliferation treaty in the sense that it applies to those states that are not--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not argue with the ruling that I have given. The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) was trying to move on to quite another subject, and my ruling applied to that. I call Mr. Wilshire.
Mr. Wilshire: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I readily accept your ruling about the test ban treaty. I anticipate that the references that I believe should be made to the anti-ballistic missile treaty would come within the same ruling, but perhaps you will allow me to say in passing that the House should determine whether that should be given priority in relation to the Bill.
With regard to the NPT and the Bill, we are seeking to prevent the spread from countries that produce to countries that do not produce. The Bill sets out to achieve better verification and inspection. We should consider whether it would be more helpful to address the production of fissile material wherever it is produced, than to say that we know where it is produced and that we will make sure that it does not spread. We could usefully be saying to ourselves that, rather than trying for more verification and inspection of facilities in countries that we know are already capable of producing fissile material, we ought to be trying to do something about the stalled debate--as I understand it, it has been stalled since about 1996--about a treaty to prevent such production.
We must also put the Bill into the context of current international security. We cannot divorce what we are doing--however much of a gesture it may be--from that. We must apply the test of whether, if we are concerned about world security, the Bill is the best way in which to act. I see that you are anxious, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not stray. I shall therefore simply flag up two points and not develop them, although I believe them to be relevant.
In the context of what has happened in Kosovo and Chechnya, is an additional protocol likely to make the world a safer place? The issue that I would explore, if it were in order for me to do so, would be whether rogue states were learning that it is worth signing up to the protocol and then ignoring its provisions--because a country such as Russia, which has nuclear weapons, can get away with human rights abuses whereas a country that does not have such weapons cannot. We must take that issue into account when we vote on whether the Bill represents the right priority.
Mr. Wilshire: I of course accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I would again point out that that issue was addressed from the Front Bench at the beginning of the debate. I would like to join that debate, but, obviously, I accept your ruling. I merely flag up the point that, if one country's system might force rogue states to flout the terms of the additional protocol, perhaps the best way of stopping proliferation is to put pressure on countries such as the United States not to do things that will provoke other countries into ignoring such matters.
The Bill enables the Government to fulfil an obligation to which they have already committed themselves. The Government have already signed the additional protocol and, from reading Government briefing papers, I think that that raises a couple of issues on which hon. Members have not yet touched in any detail, but which I seek to mention. Although, again, I will not explore the issue, such action shows that the Government of the day may sign a treaty, agreement or protocol without any reference to the House. Can that be right? Ultimately, in Committee and on Report, all that we will be able to get our teeth into is whether the Bill is the right way of doing what the Government have already done. That gives me the chance to flag up yet again the point that one of the things that is wrong with the way in which we govern ourselves is that treaties do not come before the House as they should.
The other thing that I noticed when reading the explanatory memorandum and information in the Library is that we were not able to sign the additional protocol until the EU Council of Ministers had approved it. The House must consider whether we should have to go cap in hand to Brussels to be allowed to make arrangements in relation to something that is so vital to our sovereignty and the defence of the nation as nuclear defence and capability. That is a monstrous arrangement, which is tucked away in the footnotes but should be highlighted so that people may understand. We could not even have gone as far as debating the Bill if the Council of Ministers had not already said, "It is all right by us; now you go ahead and do something about it." That is a scandal.
One other preliminary issue that we must consider is whether we are able to justify such use of time. As has been mentioned, of the 193 members of the United Nations, just 45 have signed up thus far to an additional protocol. Of those, only eight have brought it into force. The list comprises an odd bunch of very serious players on the world stage on such issues--one would expect Australia and New Zealand to sign up to it--and others, to which my right hon. and hon. Friends have referred, whose signatures do not add any weight to the argument for our signing up as quickly as possible.
Dr. Lewis: Far from being able to answer the question, I want to ask my hon. Friend another one. Is it not curious that so many countries, after such an amount of time, have not yet signed up to the protocol? I wonder what is holding them back--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We are in danger of repetition, and I am not prepared to allow that much further. The rules about tedious repetition extend from one speaker to another and are not just confined to the person who is addressing the House.
I turn to the Bill itself. One thing that we can all say about it is that it is short. I sincerely hope that the House is grateful for that. I wish, as I am sure do other hon. Members, that more Bills had only 12 clauses. It would make life a great deal simpler and we would have better legislation. Thank goodness, as far as I can see from the explanatory notes, the Bill before us only seeks to do four things, which must be something of a record for a Government Bill. I for one am happy on this occasion to applaud the Government for that. I do not say that easily; I try not to applaud them too often--but we are grateful for Bills like this.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst will forgive me for saying that, of the Bill's four objectives, three are relatively non-controversial--although my right hon. Friend rightly referred to the details. The fourth objective is most certainly controversial.
As my right hon. Friend demonstrated, although the Bill is short and to the point, the protocol is a wholly different matter. The protocol runs to eleven and a quarter pages of turgid text and twenty-three and a half pages of annexes which I find it incredibly difficult to get my mind round. I wonder whether anybody is any wiser than I am about the explanatory note half way down page 18 of the protocol, which states:
(a) Maraging steel capable of an ultimate tensile strength of 2.05 x 10 9 N/m 2 (300,000 psi) or more.
The Minister may genuinely have hoped that the Bill would become law before Easter, but he was being wildly optimistic. Perhaps it will be law by Easter 2001. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not too disappointed. I shall not burden the House with details of the 10 questions now, but I shall raise them later.