The UK continues to support and make progress against the ‘13 Steps’ agreed at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference 2000, which are applicable to the UK. We continue to reiterate our unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of our nuclear arsenal leading to nuclear disarmament as required under ‘Step 6’, most recently expressed by the Minister for the Middle East, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva last month. With regards to ‘Step 9’, we have undertaken several unilateral steps towards nuclear disarmament including reductions in warhead numbers, increased transparency by publishing historical accounting records of our defence fissile material holdings and significant reductions of the operational status of our nuclear weapons system. We have also pursued a widely welcomed programme to develop UK expertise in methods and technologies that could be used to verify nuclear disarmament.
Finally, we have pressed consistently for early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the commencement of negotiations, without preconditions, of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.
The planned reduction in the maximum number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160, announced in December last year represents a 20 per cent. decrease from the previously declared maximum number. I intend that this reduction will take place this year. This reduction is pertinent to the UK’s obligations under the nuclear non proliferation treaty and means that, since coming to power in 1997, the Government will have reduced the overall explosive power of the UK’s nuclear arsenal by around 75 per cent.