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Arms Trade Treaty

Volume 559: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2013

4. What steps the Government are taking to secure international agreement on a comprehensive arms trade treaty at the UN conference in March 2013. (145877)

The United Kingdom remains a determined driver towards a robust and effective arms trade treaty, as it has been for many years, particularly in the run-up to the conference in New York later this month. We are actively engaged in lobbying various other states, and we will continue to do that throughout the conference, both in New York and from London.

Just 10 days ago, in a debate in this House, the Foreign Secretary made a powerful speech on tackling sexual violence in conflicts. One way of turning those warm words into action would be by strengthening the draft text of the arms trade treaty, which calls on states only to “consider taking feasible measures” to avoid arms being used in gender violence. Will the Minister make getting those words strengthened in the treaty a priority?

We are looking actively to strengthen the treaty in a variety of places and to close off whatever loopholes we can. Tackling gender violence remains of exceptional importance to the United Kingdom and wherever there is a possibility of strengthening the text in relation to that, we will do so.

I congratulate the Government on campaigning for a universal treaty and on ensuring that national reports are declared openly and transparently. But does the Minister agree that in two or three weeks’ time the draft text of the treaty needs to include all arms and weapons transfers?

The key priority for the United Kingdom is to make sure, first, that we do not lose the strength of the text that was almost agreed last July. We also want to ensure that we can clarify and strengthen the text wherever possible, and transfers is indeed one of the priorities that we will be looking at in seeking to improve the text.

The UK director of Amnesty International has said that there are tighter international controls on the global trade in bananas than there are on arms. Will the Minister confirm that the UK Government will take this opportunity to push very hard for a very effective arms treaty that applies to all weapons and munitions and that ensures proper monitoring and an enhanced end-user certificate system?

The inclusion of all small arms and light weapons in the treaty is fundamental for us. I have had regular meetings with the director of Amnesty; I know her views and they are very similar to ours. It is vital that we get the broadest and most effective arms trade treaty out of New York. We will not be able to secure everything we would wish and we will not sign something just because it is a piece of paper. We want to ensure that it is robust and effective for those who use it and for end-users, too.

It is said that around the world someone dies on average every minute as a result of armed violence, including 50,000 people who will have died last July while the arms trade treaty negotiations stalled. What prospect of American support for an international arms trade treaty did the Minister and the Foreign Secretary discern from their talks with Secretary Kerry during his visit last week?

We very much want the United States to be a party to the agreement, but we know—as is well known—that they have issues with some items. The Secretary of State was made well aware by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary of the importance we attach to the arms trade treaty. The United States is, of course, keeping its negotiating position carefully guarded in the run-up to the negotiations, as one would expect. We are very keen that the United States should be able to sign the agreement and, of course, that it should meet our objectives of being robust and effective.

I was a little disappointed to hear that no Minister from our Department for International Development would be attending the arms trade treaty talks later this month. Given that armed violence is estimated to cost Africa $18 billion a year, will the Minister assure me that tackling poverty and the extent to which arms transfers undermine socio-economic development will be at the top of his list of priorities when he goes to New York?

As the hon. Lady rightly says, I am going to New York. It is not possible for a Minister from DFID to go on this occasion, but they went last July. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, has been determined in all his efforts over the course of the past year to pursue our interests in the treaty and will continue to work the phones even while other people are in New York. There is no lack of engagement from DFID and the Government’s determination, supported, we know, by the whole House, will continue throughout the conference.