§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Caithness, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill will enable effect to be given in the law of the United Kingdom to the protocol on inspection of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. The purpose of the Bill is twofold: first, to create rights of access, entry and inspection for the purposes of conducting challenge inspections under the protocol on inspection; secondly, to confer certain privileges and immunities on inspectors and transport crew members in connection with all inspections under the protocol.
The CFE treaty was signed at Paris on 19th November 1990 by 22 states, all 16 members of the North Atlantic Alliance (including of course the United Kingdom) and six states which were members 1696 of the Warsaw Pact (including the Soviet Union). It is a fundamental stage in the negotiations on conventional armed forces in Europe. It is to be followed by negotiations to limit manpower and by further measures which will enhance stability and openness in military affairs in Europe.
The treaty is of necessity detailed and technical. For the purposes of the Bill it is sufficient to note that certain categories of conventional armaments and equipment—for example, battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters—are limited by the treaty. These are known as treaty limited equipment (TLEs). The limitations apply within the area of application of the treaty, which is the European land area from the Atlantic to the Urals. Each state has to limit, and if necessary reduce —that is, to destroy or convert to other use—its holdings of treaty limited equipment to specific numbers. The treaty includes detailed provisions on the exchange of information and on verification.
Verification is contained in the Protocol on Inspection. The inspection regime is two-pronged. First, the treaty creates the concept of an object of verification. That means a military unit or installation at which treaty limited equipment is regularly present or is normally held; for example, storage sites or sites where the destruction of equipment takes place. Parties will declare where they are located and what equipment is held there. At such declared sites no party is entitled to refuse inspection of objects of verification except in certain limited circumstances. In practice, in the United Kingdom all objects of verification would be government owned or controlled. We can therefore ensure that access can be given as required by the treaty without the need for legislation.
A second important part of verification is provided by the so-called challenge inspection of specified geographical areas. These provisions mark a new and very welcome step in arms control verification. They are designed to give each party the right to inspect any place in another party's territory, whether government controlled or not, in order to ensure that the provisions of the treaty are not being avoided; for example, by relocation of treaty limited equipment away from military premises or by the failure to declare all objects of verification. It is likely that challenge inspections will usually be made at military sites which are not declared sites (that is, those which do not have objects of verification present at them); for example, other Government controlled sites or large industrial warehouses owned or controlled perhaps by major defence contractors. But the treaty gives inspectors the right to inspect any building or site within the United Kingdom capable of holding treaty limited equipment or to demand access to any area to check for the presence of treaty limited equipment, subject again to certain rights of refusal.
In summary, the essential elements of the challenge inspection regime are: first, that the Government must be able to secure access to any premises or sites within specified areas chosen by the inspecting country; secondly, the right to refuse access in certain 1697 circumstances lies with the Government, not the owner of private premises; thirdly, in practice, under the time limits agreed in the treaty, there will he no time to allow the owner or occupier of premises to argue before a court that his premises should not be inspected.
I turn now to the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 defines certain expressions and introduces the schedule in which relevant provisions of the inspection protocol are set out for ease of reference. Clauses 2 to 4 empower the Secretary of State to issue authorisations enabling inspectors to exercise rights of access, entry and unobstructed inspection in accordance with the inspection protocol. As I have explained, this power is required because the inspectors are entitled under the protocol to conduct an inspection on privately owned premises. In practice, the rights in question are hardly likely to be needed: inspectors are likely to be most interested in government controlled sites. But it is, for example, possible that inspectors might wish to enter factories making military equipment. These clauses provide also for escort and police assistance and create offences necessary for the enforcement of these powers.
Clause 5 confers specified privileges and immunities on inspectors and transport crew members. These are the same as those conferred in 1988 on inspectors under the INF treaty. It is necessary that our own inspectors enjoy such immunities and privileges operating in other countries (for example, in the Soviet Union) and we therefore have to accord them on a reciprocal basis. The number of persons involved will not be large and they will be present in the United Kingdom for short periods only.
The CFE treaty will apply throughout Europe so it is necessary to have power to extend the Bill to those territories listed in Clause 6.
Before concluding, I must explain why the Government have introduced this Bill, even though difficulties remain with Soviet compliance—difficulties which, if not resolved satisfactorily, threaten the entry into force of the treaty. The Government continue to urge the Soviet Union to remedy these matters and my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have taken them up with Mr. Gorbachev and the Soviet authorities directly. The most serious is the claim by the Soviet Union that equipment in naval infantry and coastal defence units does not count against treaty ceilings. No reading of the treaty can justify this claim. The position taken on this issue by the Soviet Union creates considerable difficulties for the process of ratification of the treaty: the other 21 signatories have been unanimous in calling on the Soviet Union to comply with the spirit and letter of the treaty. Discussions continue and we hope that the Soviet Union will soon comply fully and effectively with the treaty.
The Bill will be brought into force only when all 22 parties have ratified the treaty. However, we need the Bill in the present Session so that the United Kingdom will be in a position to ratify the treaty swiftly when circumstances permit. Without the Bill we could find 1698 ourselves holding up entry into force of the treaty and I am sure that none of your Lordships would wish that to happen.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Reay.)
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, we on these Benches—at least me on this Bench on behalf of my absent noble friends—welcome the Bill and shall assist in its passage this afternoon. There is no doubt that the CFE treaty is a remarkable step forward in terms of disarmament and the relationship between the nations of the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We welcome the treaty and hope that in due course the process will be continued so that we can move from CFE 1 to CFE 2. It is that right that the CFE treaty sets out the most intrusive verification regime ever contained in any arms control agreement. It addresses two major concerns. The first is whether information about equipment holdings at military sites is correct. The second is whether the parties to the treaty can be sure that no significant stocks of military equipment are kept elsewhere.
The verification regime allows us to check that equipment due for destruction has been destroyed. It also gives us access to military sites in order to verify exactly the numbers of each type of equipment notified as being there and to follow up the explanations given for any discrepancies. We can also visit any other site which could hold equipment limited by the treaty in order to check that there is none there. Comparable rights are given to the other parties to the treaty. Therefore there is an obligation on the UK to facilitate this right of challenge inspection, which although not totally unrestricted is undoubtedly a breakthrough.
The Minister has referred to the difficulties that appear to have arisen in the way of ratification of the treaty because of action taken by the Soviet Union. There are two problems. The first is that the Soviet Union is alleged to have removed tanks designated for destruction under the CFE treaty east of the Urals. The second difficulty is that it has reclassified three motorised infantry units involving up to 900 tanks as coastal defence units, which are not covered by the treaty. I was interested to hear the Minister say that the Government are pressing the Soviet Union about that. Am I to understand that similar pressure is being applied by our allies and in particular by the United States of America? I believe that Congress has not yet ratified the treaty. Is it still right to say that one of the difficulties in the way of ratification by Congress is precisely the point to which the noble Lord referred?
I have three detailed questions which I do not believe will take the Foreign Office by surprise. First, on page 2 the Bill states:Where a request to conduct a challenge inspection within any specified area in the United Kingdom has been made … the Secretary of State may issue an authorisation under this section in respect of that inspection".Why is the word "may" used? If we wish the treaty to be a success, should it not be rather firmer than merely giving a discretion to the Secretary of State. If he has that discretion, under what circumstances will he 1699 exercise the discretion so as to refuse the request to conduct a challenge inspection? It seems to me that unless the Government can spell out the circumstances in which there is a possible refusal, to leave that discretion expressed in the Bill in this form seems to me to be giving the wrong signal to the Soviet Union as to our readiness to allow challenge inspections within the terms of the Bill.
Secondly, challenge inspections and the right of access are clearly important. There is no point in having the right to a challenge inspection on a non-military site unless it is possible to get there. It is right that the Government should facilitate the right of entry of the inspection team onto that site. However, if that is so fundamental to the treaty, I do not understand why under Clause 3 the maximum penalty for the offence of resisting or blocking that right, which becomes an offence by an individual if he wilfully obstructs any member of the inspection team, is £400. That is an almost derisory penalty for an offence which in certain circumstances could be quite extraordinarily important.
Subject to those points of detail, I merely reiterate that my party welcomes this Bill. We regard it as an important piece of legislation in bringing into practice the regime envisaged in the CFE treaty. We wish that process well. We hope that fairly soon it can move from CFE 1 into the direction of CFE 2.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, my noble friends on these Benches wish me to express our very warm support for the Bill and to repeat what we have said often; namely, that we warmly congratulate the Government and all those who have been involved in bringing the CFE treaty to an agreement.
Reading this Bill and especially reading the schedule to it, one is struck by the extraordinary proof it constitutes of change in the relationships between Eastern and Western Europe. A few years ago who would have thought that the Russians and the Warsaw Pact countries would sign a protocol in the detail set out in this Bill, giving away every shred of secrecy in military affairs? Were it not for the fact that the Russians are now dragging their feet on the implementation of the treaty, our joy over the arms control and disarmament Bill would be unconfined.
The breakage of the spirit of the treaty, if not the treaty itself, by the Soviet Union is a profound disappointment. It is very difficult to understand the motives behind it. The breaches make no serious differences in the balance of military power. Some of them do not breach the letter of the CFE treaty. It seems to me that the breaches are wholly unintended by the Gorbachev Government and of course by the former members of the Warsaw Pact. I was most interested to hear from the Minister that the members of the Warsaw Pact are condemning those breaches and are using such influence as they have on the Soviet Union to overcome them.
One assumes that the Soviet military resents the remarkable concessions which Mr. Gorbachev has made not only in his withdrawals from Eastern Europe but in the disarmament negotiations. It must 1700 be said that although the West has made concessions, the major concessions have been made from the Soviet side and Mr. Gorbachev. It is reasonable to suppose that that has caused resentment and hostility among the military high-ups in Moscow. They are getting their own back in a rather foolish way by this essentially trivial cheating against the CFE treaty. Possibly, if they have a sense of humour, they may feel that there is a major justification for the designation of three armoured divisions as naval coastal defence in such a way that they can have three more armoured divisions within the letter of the treaty on land between the Urals and the Atlantic.
I believe that it is the view of my noble friends, and it is certainly my view, that the western countries should have included the navies of East and West in disarmament negotiations. It would he an ironic twist if the failure of the West to allow disarmament to proceed in naval matters had led to this sleight of hand by which the Soviet military high-ups have re-categorised three armoured divisions as naval forces.
Perhaps the Minister can give more information about what is the present situation. The targets and timetables are set out in the treaty. However, is disarmament taking place? We know that withdrawals are taking place. Are arms being stored? I should value more information on that.
The Joint Consultative Group set up by the CFE Treaty was meant to smooth over precisely the kind of hiccups we are now unfortunately seeing in its implementation. How often does the Joint Consultative Group meet? Is it making any positive impact on the situation? My feeling is that the Soviet Government do not want hitches in the disarmament process. They want and need, as much as they ever did, rapid agreed disarmament in Europe. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us a little more on that point.
On television the other day I saw Mr. Shevardnadze, whose influence is very much missed, I am afraid, in East-West relations at this time. I remember him saying quite frankly that he could see no justification for the evasions of the CFE Treaty made by the current Soviet Government. He was then speaking for Mr. Gorbachev and the government, and was saying that what was needed was the smack of firm government in the Soviet Union vis-a-vis the military leadership.
Those remarks are by the way. My noble friends and I congratulate those who have produced not only the CFE Treaty, but also this amazingly detailed provision for inspection and monitoring. We hope that the process can soon be set in motion, as was decided in November last year at the CFE Treaty-signature meeting.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I am grateful to the two noble Lords for the broad support that they have given to the Bill, and for their appreciation of the novel features that it contains.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked one or two questions. There were two matters regarding the Soviet Union. One was in regard to the equipment 1701 withdrawn east of the Urals. That is a serious problem. It is not strictly a treaty violation but it goes against the spirit of the treaty. The reclassification to naval unit is a serious treaty violation. It is one about which we and all our allies, including the United States and the Eastern European countries, are pressing the Soviet Union hard.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is correct that those are the reasons we are not prepared to ratify at the moment. We are not aware that any NATO ally intends to deposit the instrument of ratification of the treaty under the present circumstances. The United States administration said that it will not submit the treaty for advice and consent of the Senate until the Article 3 problem has been resolved. The United Kingdom does not propose to ratify the treaty pending discussions with the Soviet Union on those matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked about Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe. I understand that the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from the former GDR and other East European countries is proceeding largely on schedule; only Poland has not yet fixed a firm date for complete withdrawal of the Soviet forces, but we do not expect an insuperable problem to arise.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised the question of why Clause 2(1) says "may" rather than "shall". The point is that the Government can refuse a challenge inspection. Therefore in our view it would not be appropriate to impose an obligation on the Secretary of State to issue an authorisation for access. There are also circumstances in which an authorisation is not necessary; for example, if an entire specified area for a challenge inspection contained only government-controlled sites or premises.
The noble Lord asked about the circumstances in which an authorisation might be refused by the Secretary of State. We envisage that challenge inspection would only be refused for overriding reasons of national security. However, it would not he proper in the national interest to restrict the Secretary of State's powers in the Bill to do so.
The noble Lord further asked about the level of fines for refusal to comply with access requests or obstructions, and why they are set at £400. Those offences are to be summary offences that carry a fine not exceeding Level 3 on the standard scale, which is currently £400. That is the normal maximum for this kind of offence of obstructing the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, raised the question of inclusion of naval forces in arms control. Naval forces are explicitly excluded from CFE by terms of the mandate and we do not believe that it would be right to add them now. He asked also about the Joint Consultative Group. All 22 CFE parties meet regularly to discuss CFE implementation problems in the group. It does good work in detail, but the current Soviet problems over CFE require critical input at the highest level.
As I said in my introductory remarks, the CFE treaty is part of a process; it is a stage in the negotiations on conventional armed forces in Europe. 1702 It is the most far-reaching arms control agreement ever negotiated. When fully implemented, it will enhance stability, security and confidence in Europe. The Government will continue to work for full implementation of the treaty by all signatories. We hope that the problems which have arisen over compliance with the treaty can be resolved soon so that it can be brought into force and Eastern and Western Europe can begin to enjoy the benefits of it. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ On Question, Bill read second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.