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Non-proliferation Treaty

Volume 449: debated on Monday 24 July 2006

The United Kingdom has a proud record on fulfilling its disarmament obligations under article VI of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which remains the cornerstone of this country’s nuclear non-proliferation policy. Since 1998, we have withdrawn and dismantled the WE177 nuclear bomb and all of our remaining Chevaline warheads. As a result, Trident is now our only nuclear weapons system, and we are the only recognised nuclear weapons state to have reduced to a single platform. These steps have reduced our operationally available stockpile of nuclear weapons to fewer than 200 warheads, which represents a reduction of more than 70 per cent. in the potential explosive power of our nuclear forces since the end of the cold war.

I am grateful to the Minister for his helpful and full answer. Following the exchanges between my hon. Friends the Members for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) and for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) and the Secretary of State, and given the principle of irreversibility agreed at the nuclear proliferation treaty conference in 2000, will the Minister tell us whether any increase in the United Kingdom’s nuclear capacity would be compatible with our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to which he has just referred?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for thanking me for my full answer. He should understand that that full answer means that we will be fully compliant with our international obligations under that treaty. This is why we have been so supportive of the United States’ statement on the draft fissile material cut-off treaty, which represented a way forward on these issues. We are leading the way, and seeking new ways to achieve disarmament. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that and congratulate the Government on all that we have done, and on all that we will do in the future.

On the important matter of the decommissioning of nuclear weapons, will the Minister pay tribute to the work carried out by the thousands of people who work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston? In the context of the wider debate, will he also pay tribute to them not only for the work that they are doing today but for the work that they have done in the past and the work that they will do in the future to protect this country’s security?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, which I sought to answer in an earlier response. This work not only plays an important part in the defence of this country, in our role in NATO and in trying to maintain peace and stability in a troubled globe, but makes a major contribution to the science and technology base of this country. We need only consider the thousands of scientists and technicians who have been through not just AWE but other support elements of the defence industry in this country to recognise the quality and worth of their contribution. They defend us, but they also strengthen our economic and manufacturing base.