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Nuclear Weapons (Vienna Conference)

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2014

1. Whether the UK will be officially represented at the conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons to be held in Vienna in December 2014. (905688)

The Government have received an invitation to the conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons to be held in Vienna in December. We are considering whether to attend.

I urge the Government to attend the conference and to join the family of nations around the world that supported the previous conferences. One hundred and twenty-eight nations attended the 2013 conference in Norway, 145 went to Mexico earlier this year and the New Zealand Government, on behalf of 155 nations, have urged universal attendance at this conference. They have drawn attention to the first ever resolution that was passed by the UN General Assembly in 1946, which drew attention to the devastating effects of nuclear weapons and nuclear warfare on humanity as a whole. Britain should be there and should not boycott it, as it will apparently do along with the other five permanent members of the Security Council.

The House will be aware of the hon. Gentleman’s consistent views on this subject. The goals of the conference are unclear and, consequently, none of the P5 nuclear weapon states has attended the conferences in the past, as he said. We do not believe that a ban on nuclear weapons is negotiable, nor that it would even be observed by many nuclear powers. Even if it could be achieved in theory, in practice the confidence and verification measures that would be necessary to make it effective are not in place.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest humanitarian effect of Britain’s possession of a nuclear deterrent is to reduce the chances of nuclear war or nuclear blackmail against this country?

The House is, as ever, grateful for my hon. Friend’s interest and expertise in this matter. The Government’s policy is that the Vanguard class submarine will be replaced at the end of its life in the late-2020s by the successor strategic submarine, which will carry the Trident missiles, subject to main-gate investment approval for the programme in 2016. I know that he will approve of that.

The last conference was attended by more than 140 states and by the United Nations, the Red Crescent and representatives of civil society. What message does it send to the rest of the world and to rogue regimes that seek to have nuclear weapons that the UK is prepared to boycott such a conference? The Minister went to school in Vienna. Why does he not take the opportunity to go back and take part in the conference?

As I said, the objectives of the conference are unclear. That is why the P5 nations have not attended in the past. The hon. Gentleman suggests that we are doing nothing. We have reduced the number of nuclear warheads that we possess by well over 50% since the peak of the cold war. In 2010, this Government announced further reductions to have no more than 120 operationally available warheads and a total stockpile of no more than 180 warheads by the mid-2020s. That is action, which is what the Government need to pursue.