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International Arms Trade Treaty

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

2. What progress has been made towards an international arms trade treaty; and if she will make a statement. (87868)

We are committed to securing an international treaty on the trade in all conventional arms, and we intend to introduce a resolution in the United Nations first committee this autumn to progress the initiative. With other supportive countries, we are now circulating an initial draft resolution, which we hope will stimulate debate and help to secure the broad international support required.

That is welcome news, and I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for her work in that area. Does she agree that the language on human rights in the resolution must be robust? Will she reassure me that the UK and other signatories will press for the strictest possible guidelines on the arms trade? And does she agree that it would be much better for the security and safety of the world if the UN could report on the international arms trade treaty before 2008?

Of course, I take my hon. Friend’s observations very seriously, and I share her view that we must do as much as we can to make the resolution as strong as possible. An initial draft text is being circulated this week by a consortium of nations from across the globe, of which the UK is one. She is right to try to set a time line for about 2008 for some of those issues to be considered further. However, the process will take time, and it is important for the House to recognise that we are at the preliminary stage of the discussions. Nevertheless, I hope that the core principles can be agreed in this Parliament, but there will undoubtedly be tough negotiations about the detail.

Will the Secretary of State press ahead with all speed and diligence, confident in the knowledge that the lobbying is the work of not only pressure groups, but a vast number of ordinary people in this country, including, of course, the Christian Churches and the defence industry? The Defence Manufacturers Association and those involved in defence exports want to see a treaty, so they can differentiate from those who are following the law and those who are cheating, which destroys the lives of innocent people around the world.

The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on an extremely important point. As he rightly says, there is huge popular support for this move. Hon. Members will have already seen that in their constituencies, and I expect them to see more in future. He is also right to identify that there is support not only among non-governmental organisations but, crucially, in the defence industry. That is an enormously important feature of this campaign and one that should assist in its success.

I welcome the statement that we are making some progress in this respect. There has been a bit of a lull over the past few years in trying to negotiate an international treaty. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that small arms, in particular, are central to everything that is done? As she knows, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are killed and maimed every year by the small arms that are sometimes brokered beyond these shores, even under our existing law. Will she ensure that that loophole is closed as part of the international treaty?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have given a great deal of attention to that; indeed, we have restarted the process in Geneva. He is spot on in identifying this as a key area where action is needed. However, because such arms are so widespread, it is also an area of considerable sensitivity that needs a great deal of attention, support and work, which we will indeed give it.