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Arms Trade Treaty

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 15 May 2008

rose to call attention to the development of the international arms trade treaty, and the actions required to ensure that it is robust, effective and properly enforced; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted, after several months of effort, to have secured this debate. It is only proper to say that the timing is absolutely relevant to negotiations that are taking place or will shortly take place at the United Nations in New York. There is a long history of attempts to achieve some sort of control of the arms trade. I do not want to go into the details of that except to say that if ever there was a time when this was particularly important it is now.

The British Government have done well but there is a need to push even harder to achieve the outcome that is wanted—a fully comprehensive arms trade treaty. A few years ago, we signed up to the Ottawa treaty on anti-personnel landmines, which was an important breakthrough. Next week, a conference on cluster munitions will start in Dublin; I hope that a comprehensive treaty to ban cluster munitions will be signed there. Many eyes are on the United Kingdom Government because support for such a treaty by our Government will put us in a much stronger position to persuade other countries to adopt a proper international arms trade treaty.

Having said that, there is an awful lot of support already: 153 states have signed a resolution in support, with only the United States voting against, although there were important abstentions, including Russia, China, India and Pakistan. The United States apparently claims that it has sufficiently tight controls over its arms trade not to need to take part in an international treaty; I entirely reject that proposition. It is—I hope that the Government will listen to this—important to use all methods of persuasion on the Governments who are currently blocking progress towards a treaty. It is also important to gain maximum support from the Governments of the south, whose people have all too often been the victims of uncontrolled arms sales.

There are currently no effective global legally binding controls on the arms trade. There are a number of poorly enforced regional agreements which are easily evaded by the unscrupulous arms dealers that are proliferating. There can be no doubt, therefore, about the need for such a treaty. It is estimated that 1,000 people a day are killed as a result of armed conflicts in the world. Many others are tortured and forced to flee their homes or even their countries. My contention is that many of these deaths and other tragic events would be significantly reduced if there was a proper treaty controlling the arms trade.

The world is currently awash with arms—there are more than ever before. There are unscrupulous countries or arms dealers who are seeking to make money out of this trade. Let me give one or two examples. The most well known is the recent incident concerning the shipment of arms to Zimbabwe from China. Fortunately, the dockers in South Africa refused to unload the ship and its whereabouts are currently unknown. It is still possible it will seek to find the shore somewhere where these arms can be unloaded. It is perfectly clear that those arms, if they get to the Government of Zimbabwe, would only be used against their own people. Surely that is part of the basis of seeking to have a treaty.

Let me quote a few other examples; if there are any doubts about this process, examples certainly sharpen one’s mind to it. I am grateful to Amnesty International for some of the very diligent documentation that it has produced. I turn to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In July 2005 it was revealed that,

“large quantities of weapons and ammunition from the Balkans and eastern Europe were flowing into Africa’s conflict-ridden Great Lakes region, despite evidence of their use in gross human rights violations”.

Let us examine this. Amnesty has revealed that,

“arms dealers, brokers and transporters from many countries”,

have played a part in this trade. These countries include,

“Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa”,

the United States and the UK. I am not saying the British Government did that or that the arms left Britain. However, by quoting Amnesty, I am saying that arms dealers and brokers, who may be British operating but elsewhere, have taken part in this trade. It also mentioned a particular Russian arms trafficker who, with his close associates and using local operators, has secretly armed all sides in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Rwanda, there have been hundreds of tonnes of,

“mostly surplus Kalashnikov ammunition shipped from Albania and Serbia to Rwanda with the involvement of Israeli, Rwandan, South African and indeed UK companies between the end of 2002 and mid 2003”.

There are other examples from Rwanda.

There are apparently arms-for-diamonds agreements involving the Democratic Republic of Congo Government and companies in the Czech Republic, Israel and Ukraine. One can go on.

I turn briefly to Uganda. The Ugandan Government have apparently failed,

“to report to the UN imports of weapons and ammunition from Croatia and Slovakia worth over US$1 million in 2002 … Donations of military vehicles from China in 2002 and attempts by the Ugandan government to import more arms from Israel in 2003”,

also apparently took place. There is also evidence that,

“the Ugandan military authorities repeatedly supplied arms, ammunition and military support to armed opposition groups in the eastern DRC”.

I want to quote two more examples. There is evidence that Russian-supplied weapons were deployed in Darfur by the Sudanese Government and there is a wealth of evidence about Myanmar—a country that is facing a tragic situation as regards its own people and the consequence of the monsoon. Many countries have supplied arms to Myanmar: China, Russia, India, Serbia and Ukraine. It is perfectly clear that the Myanmar Government are using these arms to suppress their own people. That is the reason they have them and that is surely a very clear reason why we should not be party to supplying them; no country should. I am not saying that we are supplying them but we should not be part of a world where these things happen.

I am not against arms industries per se, provided that they are responsible and properly controlled for defence, policing, peacekeeping and other legitimate purposes. The important thing is there should be agreed criteria that should be the basis of how an arms trade might operate and therefore prevent the rather nasty examples that I have quoted.

I propose the following suggestions. States should not authorise international transfers of conventional arms or ammunition where they are likely to have one of the following five consequences: first, where they may be used or be likely to be used for gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law; secondly, they should not be authorised where they would have an impact that would clearly undermine sustainable development or involve corrupt practices; thirdly, they should not be authorised where they would provoke or exacerbate armed conflict in violation of obligations under the UN charter and existing treaties; fourthly, arms exports should not contribute to an existing pattern of violent crime; and, finally, there should be no risk that these arms exports might be diverted to one or other of the outcomes I have mentioned or indeed for acts of terrorism. Some of the difficulties are that arms sales may be made to a country that seems okay and then they are diverted from that country for other purposes. That involves real seepage and we need pretty tight controls to avoid that.

It is important that any treaty should cover all aspects of international arms transfers, including import, export, transit, transhipment, overseas production and arms-broking activities. It is not good enough for a company owned, say, in a country that is prepared to sign up to a treaty to have an operation in breach of the treaty elsewhere. It has to be pretty tight. The scope of such a treaty should cover all conventional weapons, ammunition, components and, indeed, the technological skills which would assist other countries in making or developing such weapons or ammunition.

It is also important that the treaty should apply not only to Governments but to non-state organisations. Some of the examples that I cited—no doubt there are many others—will reveal that the seepage of arms and ammunition to non-state organisations is a serious cause of many deaths and conflicts. We must be clear that a treaty would be not only between Governments; it would also cover non-state organisations. It is crucial that any treaty should be tight enough to prevent loopholes. I appreciate that it is difficult; there are arms dealers who can evade controls and who know how to work the system, such that Governments have to be particular to catch them. We need a treaty which is not just all right on the face of it but is binding and effective.

In conclusion, I thank the NGOs and others who have been helpful in providing information not only to me but to colleagues. It is perfectly clear that there is an urgent need for an international arms trade treaty which is effectively enforced. I believe that the Government have a key role to play in getting such a treaty agreed by as many countries as possible. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for introducing this debate but I have a slightly heavy heart. When I spoke last time about his wonderful suggestion about pardoning people who were in the First World War, I was almost crying—my eyes were welling up—because I was thinking about life and death. That is the subject I shall speak on today, without being in conflict with what the noble Lord has proposed.

If we are talking about defence and the arms trade, ultimately we are talking about human life and human death. It is appropriate that much of this revolves around the subject of the previous debate—food. People fight for food. I was brought up to go back to the past, and I return again to my grandfather, who was the director of restriction of enemy supplies during the First World War. If you are selling arms, where is the enemy? Who is attacking whom, and how long has this been going on? What worries me is that it is not the arms trade that is killing people; it is not the war from without but the war from within. Whether it is a case of one tribe fighting to eliminate another or death by starvation, I do not really know.

When I was a young boy at the end of the war, the one thing I loved more than any other was my sheath knife. I could throw it into the middle of a circle on a soft redwood tree. I loved that knife. I even tried to kill a rabbit once by throwing the knife at it. Naturally, I cut myself many times. This made me go back to the origins of the knife—the knife in the back, the knife which is the origin of almost all wars—to the panga and the machete. I was a great fan of the machete, which was perhaps the most effective weapon that man had ever seen, other than, of course, the khukri of the Gurkhas. When our Armed Forces were trying to take over or extend the empire, and they had just managed to replace their muskets with the bayonet—which came from the French city of Bayonne—they got rid of the club on the base of the musket. They were not using knobkieris any more, or even baseball bats or pickaxe handles. But the Gurkha learnt about the bayonets and, with his khukri, he would advance upon our soldiers, dive down under the bayonet and do them in by taking their limbs off.

This strange weapon, this piece of metal, was responsible for the genocide in Rwanda. Fear, to me, is the greatest enemy of all. I have been to most of the African countries and some others where there have been trouble and conflict and I find that what is feared is not the bullets that come from outside or the RPGs or the mortars, but the man on foot coming in, beating you up, killing or raping your wife and causing damage in that way.

What is the purpose of the arms trade if it is not to defend human life? Perhaps it is related more to conquest, territorial gain or protection. The despotic and non-despotic regimes of the world usually have one thing in common, whether they are imperial or colonial—they do not have that many deaths. The deaths seem to occur when the stability of the regime breaks up. If that regime is dictatorial, as has been the case in many countries, where the enemy or the opponents are wiped out, it often goes back to the conflicts before boundaries between tribes were clearly defined. There was the phrase, “The host took the field and there were no survivors”. Naturally, you would kill every man over the age of 15 and under 60, but you would take the tribe into your own and increase your strength.

I find it extremely sad that we have not bothered to estimate the number of deaths that are taking place. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, pointed to the arms problem regarding Zimbabwe. Is it not terrifying that the leader of a former Commonwealth country can, when a democratic situation has arisen, threaten to send in a form of unarmed brigade to frighten people at the polls? That ability to frighten may help to destroy a form of democracy.

I spent a lot of time in eastern and central Europe and should like for a moment to dwell on one of my favourite countries, Albania, whose alphabet has 50 per cent more letters than ours and whose people are highly intelligent. I was asked to go there—I always get a bum steer but I became very fond of it. When I arrived I was put in a government villa and slept in a bed where a rather strange-looking lady wearing one laddered stocking and a sock on the other foot showed me, with pride, that I was sleeping in the bed of Enver Hoxha. That was where the bullet had gone through and that was the very sheet upon which he had slept.

Yet, during the war, the godfather of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, was actually in Albania protecting Enver Hoxha and blowing up bridges. There is another interesting thing about the Albanians, which is possibly why they were so active in the arms trade. In order to remain united, they had to create fear of the regime. That is normal policy in any form of government—to be frightened of the Prime Minister or the president. That has never happened in this country. But then you have to create fear of an enemy which will unite the country. With Albania, the enemy was the United States of America. To defend themselves from the United States of America, they had 600,000 bunkers scattered throughout Albania in vineyards and everywhere else, looking rather like large Daleks from “Doctor Who”. In the front there was a slit which was pointed always to the direction from which the Americans would invade. Every one of these 600,000 bunkers had issued a Kalashnikov to the responsible head man. Kalashnikovs were made in China and many of them did not work but no Albanian had any ammunition. So when things became peaceful, Albania had the world market in Kalashnikovs, which is one of the reasons why the Albanian ex-arms are still there.

I move on to the Soviet Union and most of the Islamic countries whose names end in “-tan”. They have had struggles and strife controlling problems that arise, and you effectively end up with revolution. That usually manifests itself initially with a revolt and the killing of people. I refer to the CMEA states and their external relationships. I will use Angola as an example because I was an economic advisor to that country. When I was in Cuba I asked the Cubans why they had armed forces in Angola, paid by the Soviet Union. They said it was part of a sugar deal of some form or another, with much interchange.

My worry is that this proposal of restricting arms sales is not going to do anything to save lives. Moving round this world, we find that strange bit of metal: the parang from Malaya, the bolo, even the jitte—the Japanese metal club with which you could beat people over the head—the assegai, which I think was originally a Berber tool, and the shaka of the Zulus. These ancient tools cause deaths—or murder, if so you call it—and there is nothing one can do about that.

Jamaica is one of my favourite countries. I was conceived on a beach there and we were its economic advisers. I was given a machete and told what I should do with the handle. As I wrapped the cord round it—the cord should be plaited from a particular type of palm leaf—I was told to put the hair of one of my family within it, because when you go out to fight, you fight for your family first, and then for your country. I have said before—it is one of my favourite stories—that they opened a wonderful restaurant just after the troubles there, where the cooks and chefs were given all the latest equipment but they used their machetes to turn the eggs over and to whip everything up. At the end of the evening, the senior man was the one who, the night before, had thrown his machete nearest the centre of the dartboard.

These old tools are worrying. If we look at the deaths that are caused worldwide, the majority by far—I estimate about 80 per cent—are from within. Then we look at ourselves, with the latest armaments and kit that the world has ever created, but we are unable to subjugate a group of people who sometimes have nothing more with which to arm themselves than home-made explosives. We should look to that great man Mr Molotov and the Molotov cocktail, which has many different components in different countries. A Molotov cocktail costs approximately 60p—prices vary from £1.50 down to 45p. It can take out a tank or a personnel carrier. It has been used by the Finns to defend themselves against the Russians, and by the Japanese; it has been used the world over.

We have always had that strange word “resistance”. Is it armed conflict when you are resisting an enemy, wherever he might be? Look at the resistance in the last war, where even undoing the bolts on a railway line was, you could say, an act of aggression, in relation to which hostages were taken and killed. I am not sure of the answer; in my own mind I am confused by all this. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is proposing, and I know what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is likely to say after me. We should think seriously about why people are killed and what they are killed with. I do not believe that the maximum level of deaths is caused by armed conflict from without.

I am not saying that, had we not gone into Iraq or Afghanistan, lives would have been saved—of course not. Ultimately the one thing one wants in life is a stable regime. There are really only two countries in Europe and the world that are prepared to lose lives in fighting—France and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Commonwealth countries contain 1.9 billion people in 54 countries. The French and ourselves have 15,000 troops working abroad but we have forgotten about them. A lot more could be done if, instead of pushing hard with the UN for treaties of this sort, there were bilateral discussions with those who may formerly have been imperial or colonial countries, or with the Soviet Union. All of us want stability in all countries. The biggest enemy of all is the enemy from within.

My Lords, at the outset of my remarks I should declare an interest as a trustee of Saferworld, as a former director of Oxfam and as a member of the Friends of Oxfam. I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on having achieved this debate. He has brought great diligence and commitment to this area, particularly in the context of the Oslo process. He brings to that work—I hope he will forgive my reminding the House—his personal family history, which must have shaped him considerably in his concern, and his practical experience as a former director of the Refugee Council.

The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, always brings an original and challenging approach to these kinds of deliberation. As ever, I was interested by his speech. I will take what he said as an opportunity to acquaint the House with an experience of mine at the time I was director of Oxfam. It was in the late 1980s, in that strife-riven—even then—country of Sudan. I was down in Juba, in south Sudan. Our field director was a courageous man, the sort of member of staff who would be where the bullets were flying. He said to me, “Come on, Frank. I want to take you out early tomorrow morning to see something”. I thought, “All right”. We rose before dawn and, going through the defence arrangements for Juba, picked our way to a cattle camp.

It was a wonderful, almost biblical scene. In the faint light that was developing, these distinguished men—women were not so evident—were moving gently and gracefully about, dressed in a kind of woad, with the cattle moving and lowing. I was caught up by the romance of this in the early morning. Then my colleague pointed round the perimeter of the camp, and there were the AK47s hanging up around the perimeter.

The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, is absolutely right to draw our attention to the machete and the improvised weapon—even the making of guns of a primitive kind. We shall never have stability and peace simply by an arms trade treaty. Of course governance, human rights, education, culture and value systems are all relevant. Yet I believe, with all my experience, that an arms trade treaty is a priority on the road to progress.

We live in a volatile, unpredictable and dangerous world. Yet still, extraordinarily, the prevailing culture seems to be that arms are an acceptable part of export drives, to be encouraged in all sorts of ways unless there is an overriding specific need not to do so. By contrast, sanity demands an approach that sees arms as, by definition, lethal, maiming, destructive and potentially economically ruinous. Too easily, they can also reach the hands of criminals, terrorists and those who perpetrate state terrorism. Surely sanity demands that arms should never be exported unless there is an overriding specific reason for doing so, to ensure security and stability, and even then only with the strictest enforceable conditions and close monitoring.

Similarly, the economic and employment rationalisations are repeatedly overplayed. Objective, reliable studies have repeatedly demonstrated that the validity of such arguments is highly questionable. If the rigours of the market, so generally applauded, had been applied to much of the arms industry, much of it would never have survived. The hidden subsidies, not to mention the corrosively corrupting dangers, can be immense. The opportunity costs are considerable, not least in the deployment of technological research and expertise. By contrast, if the same resources had been expended in other directions, real and substantial benefits could have been generated. There has been a lamentable absence of tough long-term analysis and strategy.

The contradictions can be bizarre. I remember, in my own ministerial days, being appalled by the legal arguments put forward by some that our Memorandum of Understanding with Chile on arms supplies meant that we could not cut off the continued supply of spare parts after the coup against Allende and the arrival of the cruel regime which followed.

Our present Government are to be congratulated on many of the initiatives on the arms trade which they have already taken. They were pioneers of the European Union code of conduct which, with its limitations, provides a base on which to build. They have been leaders in the drive for an international arms trade treaty. To be fully effective, it is essential for all of us to support them in strengthening the consistency of their own performance—the need to be able to say, “Do as we do”, rather than simply, “Do as we say”. It is commendable that the Government have made improvements in transparency by disclosing the end-uses of certain equipment, particularly where that is for a humanitarian end-use such as mine clearance or for peacekeeping activities.

However, the Government’s arms exporting reports still do not allow for meaningful scrutiny of their declared commitment not to send arms to destinations where they could be used for human rights abuses. There should be a far more coherent explanation of their export licensing decisions to countries listed as of major concern in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's own human rights report. It seems that, in 2007, the Government issued export licences to 18 of the top 21 countries identified in that report as major countries of concern for human rights abuses. Afghanistan, China, Colombia, Israel, Iraq, Russia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were among those. Equipment covered by the licences included armoured vehicles, pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, components for combat helicopters, components for air-to-surface missiles, body armour, riot control agents and military communications systems. Therefore, I ask my noble friend, when replying, to deal with how all that can be reconciled if the Government’s stand on the arms trade treaty is to have full credibility.

By the same token, does my noble friend agree that the welcome leading support of the Government for the Oslo process on cluster weapons, with the final treaty negotiations taking place shortly in Dublin, and on which my noble friend Lord Dubs has been doing so much committed and valuable work, is undermined by their insistence on exemptions designed to retain the cluster weapons held in UK stocks?

I make these points in support of those within the Government who are determined to make policy on this front effective and not open to the charge of inconsistency or of tokenism. As we come to a crucial stage in the arms trade treaty negotiations, I ask my noble friend, when he replies, to be certain to answer the following questions. Do the Government agree that the treaty must be comprehensive, applying to all conventional arms, means of transport, spare parts, ordnance and ammunition; that it must be robust, effective and properly enforceable with convincing arrangements for implementation; that it must be rooted in international law; that it must enshrine the core principles of international human rights, humanitarian law, all other relevant non-proliferation norms and standards, and sustainable development; that it must cover all aspects of international arms transfers, including import, export, transit, transport, overseas production and arms brokering, wherever it takes place—points very well emphasised by my noble friend in opening the debate—and that it will allow for the responsible production and transfer of weapons where that is specifically essential for legitimate defence, policy, peacekeeping and other legitimate purposes, with the emphasis on essential and legitimate?

The Government deserve warm support in reasoning with the United States Administration, and with any contenders to be the future Administration in the United States, that this treaty is indispensable and vital to the cause of security. They, likewise, deserve full support for engaging with other states which remain unconvinced and which could block progress—Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Egypt and, inexplicably, South Africa are prominent examples. At the same time, supporters in the south, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana and Tanzania, should be given all possible encouragement in their support for the treaty.

Recently, events in Zimbabwe, Burma and China have added to the all-too-long list of places across the world which emphasise the urgency of delivering a tough treaty. As my noble friend said, the will of 153 states across the international community must not be thwarted. A dynamic contribution, based on consistency, by the UK Government will remain vital and that should run throughout government at all levels, in all departments, from the most senior to the more modest. It must continue to include the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

On average, 1,000 people die every day as the result of armed violence. Thousands more are injured, maimed, tortured, displaced from their homes, prevented from making a living, or bereaved. Humanity can wait no longer. The present situation is, quite simply, intolerable.

My Lords, the obvious reason for most of us to line up behind the redoubtable noble Lord, Lord Dubs, besides supporting him, is to give the Government some encouragement for their efforts to secure this important treaty, which, after all, they were the first to support at the Security Council less than four years ago. It is a UK baby that will require a lot of nurturing.

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, many of whose arguments I have enjoyed over the years. For those of us who were discussing the millennium development goals two weeks ago, this treaty is a sine qua non. All states have the inherent right to self-defence under the UN charter, but armed conflict is the constant enemy of development. It costs Africa alone about $18 billion a year, which is about as much as it has received annually in aid in the past 15 years.

As some of us said two weeks ago, we cannot begin to achieve the millennium development goals on poverty reduction, health, education and the environment unless more urgent efforts are made on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. Nevertheless, I hesitated to join this debate, because arms control is one of those subjects where high-flown phrases of intent disguise the reality of failure and incapacity on the ground.

We would all—or nearly all of us would—like to see a treaty, but when and how? The Government already say in their submission that there is no universally effective way of preventing an illegal arms trade. Forty states are not party to any regional arrangements that regulate weapons. Until now, there has not even been a list of the world’s conventional arms agreements. The Government say that a treaty will take some years to become a reality, but they are referring only to the negotiations behind closed doors. What about the treaty’s implementation by the member states? It may work in Europe, in parts of Latin America and even in India, but in countries such as Afghanistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia it will take decades.

Yet it is the conflict countries that are causing the problem and are least likely to co-operate, because they have been so incapable of controlling their own regions and ethnic minorities. Who can blame some of them? They have vast territories to control. The very existence of their states is in question and their ability to set up any systems at all is therefore up in the air.

Last night, I watched an excellent short film, made by Channel 4, about the Janjaweed in Darfur. It showed how the various militia change sides and how easily small arms are traded and captured. In this case, the arms were rifles supplied to Khartoum by China, which is a member of the GGE, the committee working on this treaty. In such a vast region with many divided loyalties—Somalia is another such country—discussions at Westminster seem a bit academic.

Of course, if hostilities end, we can do a certain amount internationally or through the UN, as we are in Afghanistan and southern Sudan, to disarm the militia, to train national armies and to create zones in which development can take place to a limited degree. We are slowly building the capacity of government departments to back up these strategies. However, these will remain limited operations. We have to accept that states, whatever they believe when they sign treaties, may sign them as half-states or quarter-states, which are legitimate perhaps at the UN but lack the confidence of an entire nation. We in the West are always recommending these provisions and formulating the phrases of disarmament from the relative luxury of unified states.

This is where I and, I am sure, many of us have some misgivings about the effectiveness of this treaty, important as it is in the UN agenda and in the armoury of international development. Pursuing non-state organisations, for example, seems quite impracticable. One does not want a convention that is unenforceable and ineffective, as my noble friend Lord Hannay said last week. Without monitoring and proper implementation, it is only a theoretical arms control programme. I feel the frustrations of people on the ground who desperately need good governance and conflict resolution, both of which would have to be in place long before they could ever hope for an amnesty even on small arms.

I acknowledge the pioneering work of NGOs and others that has already gone into this treaty. I accept that, if the treaty can be confined to small arms and light weapons, it may be possible to achieve its objectives in some regions. Other, more limited agreements, some of which have been mentioned, on landmines and cluster munitions have successfully passed into law.

I come to the area where we can make a difference: keeping our side of the bargain and controlling our own arms exports. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminded us that we continue to export strategic goods to 18 countries of concern. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. I have briefly studied the Government’s response last November to the Quadripartite Committee on strategic export controls and was glad to see it confirm that states must,

“subscribe to the highest standards”,

in their efforts to tackle bribery and corruption in arms transfers. That is of course true. However, as the public have learnt from the aborted BAE investigations, the highest standards must apply to both sides of the bargain. Even the commendable efforts of the Woolf committee, which has recommended to that company new ethical standards that would make offset contracts subject to the process of due diligence, have not been enough to uncover the whole truth about that programme. The 1997 OECD convention on combating bribery has had considerable effect, as will the new UN Convention against Corruption, in the pursuit of some of the worst offenders, at least within larger corporations, even if it cannot catch the minnows.

Stronger emphasis on conflict prevention will also assist in the process of arms control and disarmament. I was glad to see reference in the latest FCO human rights report to the need to address tensions arising from social exclusion and human rights abuse, which were described earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. There have been notable successes recently in countries such as Uganda and Sierra Leone, as well as in Burundi, where the new UN Peacebuilding Commission has been working. That commission needs much more support.

Nepal is another example of a country where swords are turning into ploughshares, or machetes into kitchen equipment, whichever way one looks at it. A fragile conflict state has apparently been transformed into one emerging from civil war towards a reasonable level of governance and stability. I am glad to say that the UK, as I have seen for myself, has been an active player in this process. Elsewhere, DfID has provided expertise on a range of subjects, such as children in armed conflict. The FCO supports the fostering of civil society as a means of bringing Governments to account. In all those countries, we must acknowledge the critical and indispensable role of non-governmental organisations, as we do of Governments.

There are some signs of hope in a globe apparently torn by conflict on all four continents. We must pray—I think that that is the right word—that the arms trade treaty will eventually find a place in the panoply of international agreements designed to ensure a safer world.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on initiating this debate. I congratulate him also on his other work in this field. Despite its brevity, this has been an interesting debate because of the divergent opinions expressed and the thoughtful nature of the contributions.

Efforts to establish an international arms trade treaty are an example of how a few enlightened individuals, together with and followed by a large number of NGOs, can hope to influence world events. Simultaneously, they are an example of the difficulties and frustrations of reaching concrete and tangible outcomes. Of those individuals who have been involved, I mention especially Dr Oscar Arias, the former President of Costa Rica, which is a country famous for not having an army. He won the Nobel Prize for his efforts to stem the tide of civil war in central America. We can claim a piece of him, because he studied for some time at the London School of Economics—like most people of eminence in the world, I have to say. He also got a PhD at the University of Essex, hence his title. He has had an enormous personal impact on the evolution of thinking about the possibility of the treaty.

As someone who is deeply immersed in writing a book about climate change and energy security, I see interesting similarities between attempts to establish international agreements on climate change post-Kyoto and post-Bali and attempts to establish an arms trade treaty. In both cases, many nations are joining in with the best of intentions; in both cases, a few key actors are not signing up or are actively seeking to exploit others with their own interests in mind. In the mean time, the phenomenon that is supposed to be addressed by these two sets of international negotiations goes on relatively unchecked. Noble Lords will probably have seen in the newspapers a couple of days ago reports of the recent studies from the observatory in Hawaii, which suggest that world emissions are rising much more quickly than we thought and already are not far short of a dangerous level.

In the case of small arms and light weapons, exports to countries have continued and have grown in number over the past few years, including to countries that are known to have committed serious human rights violations. This is part of a general swelling of the world arms trade. The proportion of countries with significant arms industries has doubled since the early 1990s. The current volume of the global arms trade is estimated at a value of $1.1 trillion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Of course, the proposed arms trade treaty would cover only a proportion of the arms trade. Some people have, not without some accuracy, called small arms the real weapons of mass destruction. Far more people have died from small weapons in recent years than from the larger ones of so-called mass destruction.

It is helpful that there is something close to a world consensus on the desirability of an arms trade treaty. As all noble Lords know, in October 2006 the UN voted to start the process towards an arms trade treaty by a vote of 139 to one—and everyone will know who the one was—with 24 abstentions. As other noble Lords have said, the EU has played a strong part in this process and has produced a series of documents on what a treaty might look like and the obligations that might be within it. We owe a vote of thanks to our Government for their efforts in promoting the treaty.

However, critics have had a field day with the attempt to establish an arms trade treaty. A prominent American political writer says that,

“a meaningful arms trade treaty is a pipe dream”.

He says that it is just,

“another hollow UN treaty that makes promises that it can’t deliver”.

Critics have raised the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, did—that death occurs in wars and that it is not weapons, as such, that kill people. However, I think that there are clear limits to that kind of argument, which is used domestically in the United States, for example, to argue that everyone is safer if they have a gun in their house because they can protect themselves. It is important that the world should try to reach agreement on an arms trade treaty.

I have four questions for the Minister, which follow on from what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said about the reality behind the possibility of a treaty. First, how would the Government see the process of reconciling the divergent interests involved? As with Kyoto and post-Kyoto, when a lot of nations are trying to reach agreement, if they manage to do so it tends to be at a very low level—and anyone who is outside can exploit the rest. How can those things be avoided when there are clear divergences of interest between countries? For example, some of the developing countries feel that an arms trade treaty might discriminate against them in much the same way as they feel that attempts to control nuclear weapons have done. The states that have nuclear weapons keep them and try to prevent other states from acquiring them. There is a morass of different interests involved and I should like to find out how the Government think that they could be reconciled, with a strong statement of the kind that noble Lords have rightly been calling for.

Secondly, the United States might refuse to sign up, even if a Democrat presidency succeeds the current one. Again, I should like to hear the Minister’s view on this. At least some writers on foreign policy have argued that in the short term it might be a good thing if the United States did not sign up because some countries, as mentioned in my first question, might see American leadership in this area as an attempt to dominate the world arms trade and substantiate its own position of dominance in it. At some point, the United States has to sign up if the treaty is to be effective, but there could be a case for saying that it should join in later, as it has done with other treaties in the past.

Thirdly, will Russia ever sign up? Russia is one of the main exporters of arms and many of those arms get to countries with noxious regimes. There are two reasons why Russia stands in a specific position in relation to the world armaments industry, which might lead it to find it difficult to be involved in the process. First, the armaments industry is one of the only industries in Russia that is competitive on a world level and in which the country can sell successfully across the world. Russia has put a lot of money into its armaments industry and armaments exports. Secondly, Russia, at present anyway—and this is likely to continue under the new leadership of Mr Medvedev—is not closely aligned with a multilateral view of the world and still takes a view of international relations that puts states and their interests first. That might make Russia an awkward partner in such international legislation.

However, I should like to end on a more idealistic note, because I hope that this is an area in world society in which idealism and realism can coincide. Oscar Arias, who was one of the initiators of the idea of a world arms trade treaty, said in 2007 that,

“all of us should be proud of this process, proud of how far we have come, but it is time to move forward from principles to practice … It is time not just for declarations but also for treaties; not just for politics but also for law”.

So here is an easy one in conclusion for the Minister: will he endorse those sentiments and find it possible to set out a position that would allow us in a world society to reconcile necessary idealism with on-the-ground realism in the construction of a treaty?

My Lords, we on these Benches strongly support proposals for an international arms trade treaty, while also recognising that it would in no sense be a panacea and would have only a fairly limited effect. Of course, that is not unique to this issue; we pass laws in this House against drug crime which do not eliminate such crime but help to control it. In an international market in which, increasingly, brokers selling second-hand arms are playing a major role, the effort to control the international arms market is going to be a very long-term one. But an arms trade treaty that provides additional mechanisms for control, ideally for monitoring and reporting and that provides a global framework for tighter regional frameworks—and I hope that the Minister will tell us a little about whether we can work into an arms trade treaty the strong objective of trying to reduce the level of arms traded—would be a useful step forward.

As a number of noble Lords have already said, this process cannot be the north telling the south what to do, for many reasons. We need to engage the countries of the south as major purchasers and, increasingly, as competitive suppliers. There are many obstacles to this; we all know from our own country the arguments about employment and exports. When I was standing in a constituency in Yorkshire, I was staggered to discover how many small businesses in Shipley were subcontractors to the Vickers tank factory in Leeds and therefore did not want me to say anything about the British Army not needing another 1,000 tanks. The same is true of the aircraft industry. It is interesting that under the Thatcher Government we were supposed to abandon an industrial strategy, which was not a good thing, but we still have a defence industrial strategy, because that is an exceptional area kept out from the free market. If Britain wants to reduce its arms sales, there are clear implications for the future of our defence industrial strategy.

The arguments for employment and exports are even stronger in some other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, mentioned Russia. I recall going to a conference in Ukraine shortly after Ukraine became independent, and a great deal of time was spent by our Ukrainian opposite number saying, “Tell us how we can sell anything which comes out of our defence industry”. It was almost the only viable industry that it had. It asked whether it could put up satellites for us, convert military aircraft into long-range transport aircraft or whatever, because it was desperate to keep people in business.

New producers complicate the matter even further. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, said that he was surprised at the South African attitude. I was in South Africa two years ago and happened to talk to someone who worked in the South African arms industry. He told me about the difficulties that it had in finding export markets and how much tighter the competition from India and Israel was getting. Brazil is also a new supplier. China, as we have heard, is a major new supplier. This is much more complex than it used to be and there are markets out there and countries desperate to find foreign exchange by supplying them.

The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, remarked on the broad problem of what a weapon is. We have all struggled with the question of dual use. The forces from Darfur that reached the outskirts of Khartoum the other day arrived in Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rovers. That is how they got across Kordofan. Those are clearly dual-use weapons. We export a lot of Land Rovers from Britain. That is part of the shady area that we are in. Helicopters are very important to international aid, but of course they are very much dual-purpose. The machetes that were used in Sierra Leone as well as in Rwanda were used to frighten and wound people, but the AK47s did more damage and killed more people.

We face the increasing problem that arms are getting smaller. Tanks and fighter aircraft cannot be hidden, but unmanned aerial vehicles can much more easily be hidden and smuggled. There are in the world a large number of shoulder-held ground-to-air missiles left carelessly behind by the Americans from the support for Afghans fighting the Soviet Union. Again, they are relatively easy to smuggle. Some major problems are getting more difficult as arms get smaller—not to mention explosives. I have just been reading the chapter in Misha Glenny’s new book McMafia in which he talks about the Bombay/Mumbai explosions some years ago in which the Pakistani intelligence services provided small amounts of very effective explosives to criminal gangs working for terrorist associates to operate in Mumbai. We have a set of markets in which states are players, but there are all sorts of terrorist, non-state, criminal and other actors. It makes things extraordinarily difficult.

There is a large second-hand trade with surpluses dashing around the world and with brokers and entrepreneurs everywhere. In the Gulf states, Viktor Bout made Dubai one of his major centres. Brokers occasionally use offshore financial centres under British sovereignty—there have been one of two cases in the Channel Islands, as the Minister will know—and Switzerland.

Then we have the problem of the United States itself, which has been remarkably careless in providing large quantities of arms to conflicts elsewhere in the Balkans and in Afghanistan and then leaving them behind to be traded elsewhere. If any noble Lords have seen “Charlie Wilson's War”, they will have a sense of how careless the United States was in providing weapons to the Afghan resistance. We also know that the freedom of the American market provides a fair amount of leakage elsewhere. We are told that criminal gangs in the Caribbean get their heavy weapons privately within the United States. After all, you can purchase fairly heavy assault weapons in various American states if you know how to do it, and then smuggle them out of the country. There is a huge problem of internal conflict, arms and criminal smuggling of arms as well as trade between states.

What can Britain do and what are Britain's responsibilities? Clearly, we should tighten our own controls further to make sure that we have greater transparency about our arms exports. I am glad to see that the Government have taken some steps in that direction and reduced what used to be the almost automatic export subsidies for arms transfers. We would like to see more reporting to Parliament. Indeed, a working group from my party recommended that all significant arms sales should be overseen by a parliamentary committee. It seems to us that there are questions about a new defence industrial strategy based on the assumption that we will maintain a major domestic industry by selling abroad. After all, that is what took us down the road to the Al Yamamah contract, keeping the British aircraft industry going by selling an enormous amount of weapons to Saudi Arabia under circumstances which we all know were rather dubious in terms of how much money went where in commissions—some of which flowed back into Britain through some British universities, although I think not yet the LSE.

The UK certainly needs to ensure that none of our offshore financial centres are involved in the financing of arms sales or arms brokers. As a member of the European Union, we should be working as far as possible to strengthen a common EU position and to make sure that those negotiating with the European Union and those wishing to become closer associates of the European Union also raise their standards. Croatia has been mentioned. It is negotiating to become a member of the European Union. What is it still doing in the arms trade in such a dubious fashion? We have some influence over Switzerland in the same way and perhaps also Ukraine.

Lastly, the British Government and others need to work to tackle the surplus of arms in circulation—above all small arms and the illegal networks that trade them. The arms trade treaty would be a useful contribution to a major problem, but we should have no illusions that it would solve this very complex and partly criminal activity.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving the House an opportunity to debate the international arms treaty. He gave an impressive overview of some of the problems of the arms trade, with examples of the different countries responsible for some of the worst cases of irresponsible arms exports and human rights violations.

This issue is a good example of persistence paying off. Without the efforts of Amnesty International, Oxfam, and others such as Alex Vines at Chatham House, the issue of controlling the trade in small arms and light weapons would not have gained the public awareness and sympathy that it now has; nor without their dedicated lobbying would the draft Bill have got as far as it has.

I am very happy that the UK has not been backward in its support for this treaty. Our representatives at the United Nations have been at the forefront of measures to promote it, and, just as important, our defence industry operates to some of the highest standards in the world. We should be proud of the UK's efforts to reduce the illegal arms trade and the horrors to which it contributes. I congratulate the Government on their contribution to progress on such a treaty.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, progress has been very slow. The issue has been on and off the table since 1995. We have now reached a point where a group of government experts has been appointed and is sitting as we speak in one of the three sessions planned for this year. What indication can the Minister give the House of how long it can be expected to take for the process to be completed?

There are other problems ahead apart from the interminable workings of international bodies. Despite the enormous support for the resolution in both July and December 2006, there was the notable opposition of the United States and, as the noble Lord said, 24 abstentions. These included both China and Russia, which are themselves heavily involved in the international arms trade at all levels. It is clear that persuading these countries to make a positive contribution is necessary for the success of the treaty. As we are all aware, China was the source of the shipment of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades to Zimbabwe last month.

The intentions of a treaty are only as effective as the subsequent actions of its signatories. Without the active support of these countries, little can be done to mitigate the death and destruction that follow from the indiscriminate and criminal use of light weapons. Does the Minister have any confidence of being able to change the abstaining countries’ minds? We can hope that the support given by other countries will exert some pressure, but our examples of how to maintain a successful defence industry that still meets higher standards will be the key to reassuring them that the treaty will not harm the legitimate defence industry or the responsible export of munitions.

I also hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that the Government will not support any suggestions that the treaty should be watered down to make it more attractive to these reluctant states. If the treaty is not sufficiently robust, it will be meaningless. Will the Minister give a commitment that the Government will not attempt to increase the number of signatories by sacrificing provisions?

Another concern that I believe we all appreciate is the question of enforcement. How do the Government expect the treaty to be policed? It is of course the illegal trade in small arms and light weaponry that leads to the most harm around the world. We cannot rely on dock workers to hold up every suspect shipment en route to unstable countries. How do the Government intend to target the non-signatory countries and organisations that actively and knowingly participate in the illegal arms trade? Who will take responsibility for identifying and prosecuting those breaking the treaty’s provisions? And how will the Government stop the costs and burdens of enforcement from falling primarily on those states that already run their arms industries responsibly?

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that this has been an interesting debate. I listened carefully to—and, as always, was enormously impressed by—the words of my noble friend Lord Selsdon, who made the point that it is not just heavy weapons that are a threat but often the knife, the machete and the kukri that kill people.

I am pleased with and proud of what this county has done so far to promote the treaty. I am hopeful that we will eventually achieve success with a comprehensive, robust, fair and effectively implemented treaty. I therefore encourage the Government to continue their efforts towards that goal, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in answer to the questions that I and other noble Lords have raised.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on securing this debate and on starting such an interesting and worthwhile discussion on this important subject. Before I address the points that have been raised, I remind noble Lords that I was Minister for Defence Procurement from 2001 to 2005 with responsibility for defence exports and that later on, while out of government, I worked for a time in the defence industry.

As my noble friend made clear, the debate could not be more timely. As we speak, the second in a series of three UN group of government experts meetings is under way in New York to discuss issues of direct relevance to those discussed in this House today. We are pleased to have been at the very forefront, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, reminded us, of initiating this UN process towards an ATT in 2006, pleased to be working closely with our partners in the NGO community and with industry to take that process forward, and pleased to remain fully engaged internationally in strong support of the United Nations process towards an arms trade treaty. Together we have achieved success in taking the process forward towards a treaty. It has not always been easy to convince sceptics, but I believe that our innovative co-operation is beginning to yield results.

I remind the House that this country, along with six others, introduced a resolution into the United Nations in December 2006 calling for work towards an arms trade treaty. One hundred and fifty-three countries voted in favour of the resolution, 24 abstained and only one voted against. In 2007, as part of the first phase of the UN process authorised by that resolution, an unprecedented number of countries submitted their views on an arms trade treaty to the Secretary-General. More than 100 submissions have now been made, giving views on the treaty. The norm is fewer than 20.

The second phase of work arising from the resolution began in February this year, with a meeting of a group of government experts from 28 countries, selected by the United Nations Secretary-General to consider the feasibility, the scope and the draft parameters of such a treaty. There will be three meetings of the group during 2008, the second of which is under way while the third session will be in July this year. The experts include representatives from countries that voted for this process, from those countries that abstained and from the United States, which voted against it. The debate will therefore cover the full spectrum of views on a treaty, and I suggest to the House that that is a good thing.

Our disarmament ambassador from Geneva, John Duncan, leads our team. We will of course press for high standards and appropriate coverage to make a treaty effective, but this series of meetings is considering only the mandate given it by the Secretary-General on the basis of the agreed resolution, so we will also be listening carefully to the views of others with a view to building consensus for the chair to report back to the Secretary-General at the end of the summer based on sound expert advice.

My noble friend Lord Judd said that this was a high priority matter, and we agree; such a treaty is a high priority for the Government. However, we will not settle for anything less than a robust treaty. What do I mean by that? I mean a treaty that is effective in preventing the irresponsible trade in arms, which is the source of much of the weaponry that finds its way into the illicit market and which is used in attempts to undermine democracy, human rights and development. We want a treaty that has globally agreed high standards against which states assess whether to authorise arms exports. That includes assessment against high standards of human rights, international humanitarian law and taking into account the impact an arms export might have on sustainable development or conflict. There is widespread international support for such a treaty, both among states and in civil society. However, some states have reservations and many questions that I have been asked relate to those states. These reservations include whether a treaty will raise standards or simply legitimise lower standards. There is also the question of whether we can achieve the same ends by strengthening existing mechanisms.

The Government’s view is that these concerns are legitimate and must be explored if we want to see an effective treaty. However, there can be no question of agreeing a weak treaty: we would not legitimise lower standards. As we see it, a treaty of this kind is fundamentally new ground. It is the first time that the international community is taking forward this level of debate about global standards for arms export controls. The aim is to plug the gaps and inconsistencies that exist between the patchwork of regional and national arms export control arrangements.

An arms trade treaty would not affect domestic legislation on arms ownership. Nor would it affect a state’s inherent right to purchase arms for self-defence. The treaty would establish common standards that each country would use to assess arms exports. With common standards, there would be a greater consistency of approach and more objectivity in assessing arms export licences. This would create a more certain environment in which legitimate and responsible arms trading would become more straightforward and international collaboration between defence industries on investment, production and the chain of supply would become more attractive.

We are committed to moving forward quickly within the UN, so that a robust and effective treaty can be achieved as soon as possible. However, it is important, if we are to be successful, that we take full account of the views of our international partners. We have to listen to their views on what they need from an arms trade treaty and we need their help in making sure that a treaty is as effective as possible in addressing the irresponsible trade in conventional arms. This will take time, but it is better to invest time now in achieving a robust and workable treaty that states will want to implement, than to rush ahead and not take into account the needs of those countries that will be affected.

In achieving the high standards that I have referred to, we need to balance a number of issues. We need to ensure that the legitimate and inherent defence needs of individual countries are respected. The task of protecting society is complex. Defence and security capacity underpins the ability to protect civilian life and to maintain democracy and development. We need to be sure that the steps that we want to take to protect human rights, security and development with an arms trade treaty do not have unintended consequences. The UN consultative process will help to identify these issues and will inform further debate. For example, if we claimed that no defence exports at all were legitimate—the British Government never make that claim—we would never get a treaty signed at all.

Despite the complexities of these issues, I hope that our message remains clear. We want an arms trade treaty that will be effective in preventing irresponsible arms trading and transfers. We want this because it will help to prevent weapons getting to terrorists, insurgents and armed groups that threaten human life and the values that we hold dear of democracy, freedom and humanity. Those are fundamental rights not just for us, but for all members of our global society. We want this treaty because we believe that it will help to take guns out of the hands, for example, of those who target our troops when they defend those fundamental rights in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was asked a number of questions. Some I have answered in my speech, but let me be more specific. My noble friend Lord Dubs made the point that time is of the essence—we must not take too long over this. He has heard me say that, for the treaty to work effectively, it must be agreed by as many countries as possible, and must cover agreed parameters. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, hinted at the fact that this is an incredibly complex process that must take into account the views of all 192 members of the United Nations, and so will take time. I make two points: that the process is on its way; and, very importantly, that support has been overwhelming.

I was asked about ammunition parts and dual-use items. This is an area where there is a legitimate range of views. Our aim is to secure a treaty that will reduce the suffering of those affected by prolonged conflict or by the tyranny of human rights abusers. Ammunition parts, technology to produce armaments and related dual-use items in the wrong hands can and do contribute to that suffering. We therefore believe that dual-use items and ammunition parts should be controlled as part of the treaty. We acknowledge, again, that this will need careful handling to prevent unintended consequences that impact on legitimate development or trade.

My noble friend Lord Judd asked me six questions and was kind enough to give me advance notice of them. I say, in short, that the answer to all his questions is “yes”—we agree with what he put forward. He also referred, as did the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, to the issue of UK defence exports to human rights abusers. We believe that we ourselves should uphold the highest standards. The suggestion has been made that, when dealing with countries of concern, we should go for a presumption of refusal in all cases. I remind the House that all export licence applications are rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, taking account of the circumstances prevailing at the time and other announced government policies. Those criteria clearly set out our commitment to take account of the risk that exports might be used for either internal repression or external aggression. We assess exports on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the nature of the equipment and the country for which it is destined. When assessing licences, we look closely at all the specific evidence relating to each individual export application, including the circumstances at the time that the application was made. Where there is a case to embargo a country because of its human rights record, we act, and I give as examples Zimbabwe and Burma.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and my noble friend Lord Dubs asked about ammunition and dual use, and I think that I have already replied to their point. Such a treaty needs to be comprehensive, covering dual-use items, ammunition and parts.

My noble friend Lord Giddens asked a number of important questions and I start with the one about the United States. Both we and the United States, together with a large number of other countries, have the common aim of seeking to prevent the irresponsible proliferation of conventional weapons. The United States is participating in the UN meetings and its views will be taken very much into account, along with the views of others. The US is particularly concerned, first, that this may be an attempt to legitimise low standards and, secondly, that it may introduce domestic gun ownership controls. We share US concerns about the first point and we would not sign up to a weak treaty. On domestic gun controls, the treaty that we are proposing concerns exports and does not cover national policy. We are working with the United States to ensure that it recognises that its concerns on the second point are unfounded.

Russia is a sceptic, and I was asked by my noble friend how we can bring it on board. The countries that abstained include China, India, Pakistan and Russia. Obviously, it is right that their views are taken into account and that they are part of the process, rather than left outside the tent, in taking forward expert discussions on the feasibility, scope and draft parameters of such a treaty. I shall not pretend for a moment that it will be easy to satisfy every country, but it is vital that we do everything that we can. That is why the current process is designed in the way that it is.

My noble friend asked how we can avoid the lowest common denominator. If we secure a treaty that is too weak to have any real impact, it will not have been worth the candle. We need a strong agreement that will make a real difference to the lives of those who are impacted. As a country, we will not agree a weak treaty or one that does not support the legitimate trade in defence goods. Our best hope is the inclusive and ongoing consultative United Nations process, which we believe should be able to do the trick in addressing concerns without producing a weak treaty that is not worth the paper on which it is written. I have already told noble Lords about our next steps.

I take on board the terms “idealism” and “realism” used by my noble friend Lord Giddens in quoting an expert. This is not a bad example of where the idealistic and the realistic can, if approached properly, both be realised. We work closely with our partners, NGOs, industry and our international colleagues, and we value their advice and support. We think that we have achieved significant progress in working towards a treaty at the United Nations since we started on it in December 2006. We look forward to continuing this success by taking the UN process further forward towards the conclusion of a robust arms trade treaty that has a significant and lasting impact in preventing irresponsible trade in conventional arms. We know that it will not be easy but it must be worth the effort.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting debate and I welcome the Government’s response. They have been very positive and if they give effect to the positive stance they have described, the world will become a safer place.

There has been a welcome broad measure of agreement throughout the debate that we need such a treaty, that we need a treaty which is going to be enforced effectively and that we need a robust treaty—in other words, there must not be a compromise in order to get more countries to sign which would make the treaty weak, flabby and ineffective. I would say, by way of encouragement, that the treaty against antipersonnel landmines—the Ottawa treaty—has been pretty effective, even though the United States has not signed it because it is not using such weapons. There will be more authority in having a robust treaty with one or two signatories not there than in making the treaty weak in order to get all the names on board. We can exert pressure on the non-signatories better in that way.

There is a difficulty about non-state organisations and it will be a challenge to make sure that the treaty is enforced on non-state organisations. I believe that our Government can speak with authority in persuading other countries to go along with this. They will speak with more authority if we sign up to an effective treaty against cluster munitions because that will show that we are consistent across the piece.

Having said that, I am encouraged by this debate and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.