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Arms Trade Treaty

Volume 549: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2012

At the month-long negotiating conference in New York in July good progress was made towards getting a robust and effective arms trade treaty in the manner we wished for, but unfortunately it was not possible to reach a conclusion on the text at the end of the month. Accordingly, we are now recommitted to doing everything we can to see that base built upon, and we hope to make progress as soon as possible towards the treaty, which we hope will be in the next UN session beginning this month.

I thank the Minister for that response, and I am glad that he is talking about taking the matter to the UN General Assembly, rather than waiting for yet another meeting—under the rules, next year. We would need to get a two thirds majority, so this could be made faster now. Is he concerned that there are still many loopholes in the arms trade treaty, not least the fact that ammunition will be subject to fewer restrictions than conventional arms and that there is no requirement for the public reporting of arms deals? What plans does he have to address those loopholes?

I do not want to risk taking too long in my answer, because there is an awful lot in this. The pause that the chair of the conference gave to allow nations to consider progress allows us the opportunity to make representations to see whether we can make progress on what we thought was already a good text. There are some good things there already. For the first time, there is a global commitment to arms export controls and a mandatory requirement that arms exports should be subject to a range of requirements, including human rights, with a mandatory refusal if there is a risk of abuse. In company with civil society, non-governmental organisations and other partners, we will look for the process that is most likely to improve it and we will work with partners on the best way of taking steps forward.

I think a meeting between the Minister and the hon. Lady would be an enriching experience for both of them.

We are glad to hear it. A beautiful relationship. We are grateful to the Minister. I call Martin Horwood.

I do not want to intrude on the love-in!

Last minute blocking tactics by the United States and then by Russia prevented the signature of a robust treaty in July. What assurances has the Minister had from the American Government that the international community will be able to pick up where it left off, perhaps after any distracting events in November are out of the way, and that the treaty will not be watered down in the meantime?

“Assurances” is not necessarily the right word. The conversations between us and those we expect to be major signatories, such as the United States, go on all the time. Time scales might have an impact on the negotiations that are going on, but it is important that we use the time that has been given to build on the good things in the treaty and do our best to ensure that those are not lost as we take the process forward.