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Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Volume 688: debated on Monday 1 February 2021

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. (911602)

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. (911620)

The Government have been clear that we will not sign the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. We welcome the US offer to extend the new START—strategic arms reduction treaty—with Russia, and we would support that treaty and its robust verification mechanisms continuing.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the deep disappointment and frustration felt across Scotland and much of the UK because the UK Government did not join 85 other countries and sign up to the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons on 22 January. Can he explain why the UK has failed to support this treaty, and how this is consistent with its strategic objectives and obligations under article VI of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to make attempts in good faith to move towards the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons programmes?

The Government did not sign up to it because we do not think it is an effective way of dealing with this. We do think that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is a more effective way of reducing both the spread and, indeed, the number of nuclear weapons on the planet, and that is why we favour gradual multilateral disarmament negotiated through a step-by-step approach.

It seems as if global Britain is running in the opposite direction of global consensus on this issue. Rather than just hoping that nuclear weapons will never be used and working for some eventual point in the future when they might be eradicated, why will the Government not take the bold steps of signing this treaty and, for that matter, removing Trident from the shores of this country?

It may have missed the hon. Gentleman’s attention that other countries, those much less democratic and with much less regard for human rights, are working in the other direction and developing nuclear weapons. One reason we felt that nuclear weapons are important to the United Kingdom, when other regimes such as, potentially, North Korea and others develop them, is as a deterrent. We will continue to believe that, and seek ways to reduce nuclear holdings around the world in a multilateral, not a unilateral way. If I think that some of those adversaries care about some of those countries having nuclear weapons or not, the world might be slightly different, but it is not. We should be careful and protect our friends. We are a provider of a nuclear deterrent for NATO and for Europe. That has kept the peace for 50 years, despite some very aggressive nuclear powers.