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Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

Volume 637: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2018

States parties to the biological and toxin weapons convention (BTWC) held their annual meeting 4 to 8 December 2017. This was the first such meeting since the convention’s eighth review conference in November 2016, on which I made a statement to the House on 10 January 2017, Official Report, Vol. 634, column 8WS [HCWS400].

The convention is one of the foundation stones of the international disarmament and arms control system. The UK, one of the convention’s three depositary Governments, is strongly committed to its effective and universal implementation as an essential instrument in helping combat and mitigate the threats posed by biological warfare. Our objectives are to enable the convention to remain relevant in addressing the evolving threats of biological or toxin weapons being developed or used, and to keep pace with the rapid and diverse advances in many fields of science and technology.

At December’s meeting of states parties, we sought to agree a substantive new programme of work to advance our objectives, through a series of expert technical meetings leading up to the next review conference in 2021. The UK, with the US and Russia, the two other depositary Governments for the convention, worked with many other states throughout 2017 to build consensus around common elements of such a substantive new work programme.

I am pleased to inform the House that this hard work is paying dividends. States parties joined consensus to agree a new programme of expert meetings each year from 2018 up to and including 2020. The meetings will discuss issues such as the preparedness and response to any potential use of biological and toxin weapons, and developments in science and technology. The agreed programme will discuss and promote common understanding and effective action on these issues, aiming to strengthen the implementation of the convention as a whole to respond to evolving challenges. Importantly, future annual meetings of states parties have authority to respond to these expert discussions, including by taking necessary budgetary and financial measures by consensus with a view to ensuring the proper implementation of the work programme.

This outcome was the product of determined diplomacy over a number of years. The achievement is all the more notable after the disappointing result of the 2016 review conference, and a cycle of relatively unproductive meetings which had lowered expectations of progress on a more ambitious work plan.

The UK will continue to work hard to support further tangible progress towards universal and effective national implementation of the convention, and to enable it to maintain its relevance and vital role as a keystone agreement in the broader international disarmament and non-proliferation architecture.