HL Deb 10 July 1991 vol 530 cc1389-91

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they have not ratified the United Nations convention on the prohibitions or restrictions on the use of certain conventional weapons which may be deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects which they signed and presented to Parliament in 1981; and why they signed it, if they had no intention of ratifying it.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the Answer is still the same as that which I gave to the noble Lord on 19th June. We have every intention of ratifying when our consideration is complete.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, can the noble Earl explain to the House why after 10 years of consideration the Government have not ratified the convention? Is he aware that a large number of nations, including France, the Soviet Union and China, have done so? What on earth is the cause of the 10-year delay? When the convention was presented to this House by the Government there was no suggestion that 10 years later it would remain unratified.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that too is a remarkably similar question to the one asked by the noble Lord on 19th June. The answer is exactly the same. We are considering the matter in the light of the recent Gulf war.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, that is not a satisfactory answer.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, as the consequences of the Gulf conflict must be a factor in the Government's deliberations on the matter, can the noble Earl say what progress has been made in assessing Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, considerable progress has been made on that specific and detailed issue. We wish to progress the matter to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that this country has a well-earned reputation among well-earned people for not signing conventions that it does not intend to implement? In that way Britain distinguishes itself from a large number of other countries. Would it not be a pity if we allowed our standards to slip?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. We must be careful and check precisely all the details of any convention that we intend to ratify.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the Minister may be interested to know that some of us believe that at the time of Saddam Hussein and all that he stood for, it was good that we had the necessary weapons utterly and completely to destroy him.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we pay enormous tribute to all those who handled the weapons and are grateful for the services we have available.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, mentioned some countries that have ratified the treaty. Will the Minister confirm that, of the 54 countries that signed, fewer than half have ratified it? It has not been ratified by the NATO alliance, with the exception of two of its members. The Question tabled by the noble Lord implies that we are in some way alone. Will the noble Earl confirm that we are not?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am happy to confirm that we are certainly not alone. As I said on a previous occasion not long ago, the United States is still considering ratification, so also is Germany; France has ratified only two out of the three protocols. As the noble Lord rightly says, discussion is continuing within NATO.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl could help some of us. I do not know what weapons are encompassed in the Question. Do they include napalm and phosphorus? If so, can he say what considerations the Government have in mind when considering whether to ratify the convention?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that phosphorus and napalm are two of the weapons being considered. It is probably not the right time to tell him exactly the considerations being taken into account, save to say that we want the minimum possible loss of life in the event of those weapons having to be used.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, while the noble Earl may not wish to give the House the exact details of why the matter has been held up for 10 years, can he give us some idea why this country—unusually as far as we are concerned—has failed to ratify the convention? The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, put the matter before the House 10 years ago. If he were here today he would probably express surprise that 10 years later it remains unratified. Can the Minister give us a little more information?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I explained fully the reasons why there has been a delay in the considerations undertaken at the moment. The Gulf conflict is one of the areas that we are looking at. We are also discussing the matter with our partners in NATO.

Back to