LETTER: Wrong signals on chemical weapons

From Dr David Clark, MP Sir: Friday 13 January marks the earliest possible date for the Chemical Weapons Convention to come into force. At the time of its negotiation, it seemed inconceivable that there would be obstacles to ratification. Only 18 countries have done so. Sixty-five are needed in total.

The British Government played a constructive role in its negotiation but fell at the first hurdle in the ratification process. Its current evasiveness, if not apathy, on this issue contrasts starkly with the Prime Minister's commitment at the London G7 Summit Declaration, which urged countries "to become parties at the earliest opportunity so that it can enter into force as soon as possible".

The Convention would ban the production, development, stockpiling, transfer and use of chemical weapons, and represents a model for future arms control efforts through its comprehensive and rigorous verification regime. That the Government has failed to bring forward the appropriate enabling legislation conveys all the wrong signals to the minority of nations who have not yet signed the convention. For the sake of international security, Britain must lead the way and ratify the agreement.

Yours faithfully, David Clark MP for South Shields (Lab)

House of Commons London, SW1

10 January The writer is Shadow Secretary of State for Defence.