Non-proliferation Treaty: 50th Anniversary Review

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 13th July 2022.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 4:30 pm, 13th July 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the 50th anniversary review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. In her absence, I congratulate Ruth Cadbury on securing the debate. I am sorry that she is unwell and I hope that she feels better soon.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty had its 50th anniversary earlier this year and has long been regarded as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. The Government, such as they are, continue to argue that the best approach to multilateral disarmament is a step-by-step approach based on existing instruments—above all, the NPT. At the same time, however, they consistently refuse to provide specific numbers on the size of the UK’s current stockpile or the timetable for their reduction programme.

In the context of the appalling war in Ukraine, the UK has been added to a list of NATO nuclear weapon storage locations in Europe. Ministers have not come clean about that either and are refusing to confirm or deny whether a green light has been given to the ramping up of nuclear capacity at Lakenheath, for example. I believe that we should be told.

It is also worrying that the UK Government have not yet decided which Ministers will attend the 10th review conference to coincide with the 50th anniversary. Given that the UK has said that it

“looks forward to working with all states to strengthen” the NPT at the upcoming review conference, I trust that the Foreign Secretary will be present to engage meaningfully in not just the NPT process but the wider process of eradicating all nuclear weapons from our planet.

The review conference is an opportunity to call on Russia and all nuclear weapon states to declare that they will not threaten to use or use nuclear weapons under any circumstances. We need to know that the UK will make that call and that the Secretary of State will be there in person to underscore the importance of that message. Our aim surely has to be to prevent nuclear war and the use of nuclear weapons. Indeed, that is one of the most powerful reasons why many of us have campaigned for the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

A successful first meeting of the treaty states parties in Vienna adopted a strong declaration and action plan to make prohibition a reality. The UK needs to support that, as well as to engage constructively in making the NPT work better. That prohibition treaty is accepted by the UN as part of the wider non-proliferation and disarmament regime. I was in New York for the UN negotiations in 2017 and I saw the seriousness with which many states participated, but I also saw the UK’s empty seat and felt frankly ashamed that our Government had behaved so irresponsibly by boycotting the process.

If that prohibition treaty is now part of the multilateral regime alongside the NPT, it is an important UN process that the UK needs to participate in from now on, precisely to strengthen Britain’s defence and security. It has one clear goal: to stigmatise and prohibit nuclear weapons. Some 63 nations have ratified it, 66 have acceded and a further 23 have signed. Article 4 provides a process for nuclear weapon states to engage prior to disarmament through a legally binding time-bound plan for the verified and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapon programmes.

That is an important route for our Government to engage with the treaty and take the first steps towards signing and ratification. If the UK is genuine when it says that it is committed to multilateral disarmament, it is entirely inconsistent to do anything else, let alone to oppose the global prohibition treaty, as is its current position. Likewise, the refusal to commit to never using nuclear weapons first is inconsistent with showing leadership on nuclear disarmament and proliferation.

Some 50 years after the world agreed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology, and to achieve nuclear disarmament and a general and complete disarmament, too many countries are still pursuing aggressive models of national security that create conflict. Real human security is about using our resources and our diplomacy together to tackle and reverse those wider causes of insecurity, such as climate breakdown. It is about ensuring that everyone has enough food, water and shelter to meet the world’s needs and that people have peace and education. That is the kind of security that should be at the heart of national Governments’ decision making, not a stubborn ideological adherence to the nuclear doctrines of the past or to the myth of deterrence, and it also needs to be the basis for international agreement.

As the 10th review conference approaches, I call on Ministers to demonstrate real global leadership, real ambition and bold thinking. A nuclear-free world is possible if we are prepared to challenge and then shift moral, political and legal norms. That kind of security is not something that we can or should wait another 50 years to achieve.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley 4:35 pm, 13th July 2022

I congratulate Caroline Lucas on opening the debate. The review conference will bring together over 190 signatory states to discuss progress in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology since the last review conference in 2015 and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.

The original treaty was negotiated by Labour’s Minister for Disarmament, the MP, later Lord, Fred Mulley, under Harold Wilson’s 1964 to 1970 Government, but it has been a formal commitment of all Governments—Labour and Conservative—since 1970. Nuclear disarmament is a priority of humanitarian politics, given the function of nuclear arms to wipe out mass civilian populations, as occurred tragically and appallingly in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with smaller weapons than those that exist today, and their use by all sides to assert foreign policy priorities throughout the cold war and since.

The text of the non-proliferation treaty sets out the aims of

“strengthening of trust between States in order to facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery pursuant to a Treaty on general and complete disarmament”.

A clear goal of the treaty is to end the existence of nuclear weapons in states that possess them, alongside preventing their further proliferation. Therefore, it is truly regrettable that both Labour and Conservative Governments have retained nuclear weapons and failed to progress to the complete disarmament of the UK’s nuclear weapons, which we have agreed to.

Over 60 years, the UK has replaced Polaris with Trident warheads and missiles, and replaced the Resolution-class submarines first with the Vanguard class and now with the Dreadnought class. Furthermore, the Government announced in 2021, in their integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, that alongside the new submarines the ceiling on the number of nuclear warheads held by the UK will increase by 40%, in a reversal of the downward trend seen in recent decades. The proposed changes in warhead numbers are a reversal of the UK statement by Baroness Anelay at the 2015 review conference and run counter to international momentum towards global nuclear abolition.

The repeated failure of the nuclear weapons powers to make progress on taking steps towards disarmament and to carry out disarmament at repeated NPT review conferences since the first one in 1975 has made it necessary for disarmament-committed states in the New Agenda Coalition to work with civil society to drive the process forward. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion referred to, that has resulted in the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which 86 states have signed up to and 66 states have ratified, and which has now entered into force. That is the right step forward.

However, the UK remains outside that treaty, which is dominated by nations from the global south but, critically, also includes forward-thinking countries such as New Zealand and Ireland. It really is regrettable that the UK national report on the NPT, which was published in November 2021, says nothing about the UK’s planned increase in the warhead ceiling or about engagement with the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and that its reference to the P5 process has no timetable for warhead reduction.

The war in Ukraine has resurrected ghosts of the cold war and brought home to all of us again the threat from nuclear weapons and nuclear accidents, at a time when both Russia and the USA have been modernising their weapons of mass destruction and the UK is also proposing to increase its nuclear arsenal, contrary to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

We need strong civil society movements in the UK and elsewhere to push the UK Government and others to join the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and I am proud of the leadership being given by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Wales, of which I am a member. This year marks 40 years since all the then county councils in Wales declared themselves to be nuclear-free zones, which meant that nuclear weapons could not be stationed in Wales. That landmark decision is being celebrated this summer with a travelling exhibition across Wales—including a visit to my constituency during the week of 8 August—that commemorates the horrific bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

The hon. Lady is making some powerful points. I note her point about nuclear weapons not being stationed in Wales, and I want to put on record that I am very envious of that. I wish that they were not stationed in Scotland, where they are located a stone’s throw from our largest population centre—despite the opposition of most elected politicians in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish politicians here, and against the will of civil society.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

I agree, and I hope that one day we will have a nuclear-free United Kingdom and indeed a nuclear-free world. The horrific consequences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain in our memories. Let us not forget that it was women from south Wales who had the courage and vision to march to and surround the US cruise missile base at Greenham Common, and I am proud of the fact that I was there as a child with my family.

As part of the work around the touring exhibition, CND Cymru is urging support for the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. CND Cymru says that while nuclear weapons exist we all live under the threat of such weapons being used. It is vital that there is support for the global abolition of nuclear weapons and that the UK Government start to engage with the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons and eventually become a signatory to it, so that the world can be free from all nuclear weapons. I am pleased to say that the Welsh Senedd—our Welsh Parliament—voted to back the treaty in March, calling on all states to ratify it. I also welcome the fact that a number of local authorities in Wales have signed resolutions to the same effect.

We need action now more than ever. The world continues to be an extremely dangerous place, and I am sure that everybody in this room shares my desire for a future for our children, grandchildren and beyond. Unless we have a nuclear-free world, that is unlikely to happen.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North 4:43 pm, 13th July 2022

It is an absolute pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I thank Caroline Lucas for what she said and for the work she has done over many years on peace and nuclear disarmament issues. We have been at many rallies, meetings and demonstrations together, and I am sure we shall be at many more in the future. I also absolutely endorse everything that my hon. Friend Beth Winter said.

This is an extremely important and timely debate, because it means that the Government have an opportunity, which they have not always had, to set out ahead of the non-proliferation treaty review conference their position and aims for the conference. I do not remember them ever doing that before, and I hope the Minister is able to help us with what the Government’s aims and plans will be.

I attended the last NPT review conference, which was held in New York in 2015, as a representative of peace organisations in Britain. It was, as such events always are, extremely interesting. A large number of peace organisations were present, as were Governments from around the world. In this country, our media protect us from the anger of many people around the world who see Britain and the other five declared nuclear weapons states as insular, uncommunicative and not very interested in discussing peace issues. Our media do not report that.

You do not have to spend long at an NPT review conference to understand that a large number of Governments around the world take non-proliferation extremely seriously and support all sections of the NPT. I have also attended a large number of non-proliferation treaty prep conferences, which take place every year, so I have seen the great efforts made to build alliances to improve things, and when people say, “Well, the NPT hasn’t achieved anything,” I beg to differ—it has achieved a great deal.

The NPT was a landmark policy in the 1960s, and we should give credit to Harold Wilson and the Government of that time for bringing it about. It requires the declared nuclear weapons states to take steps towards disarmament, and its other signatories not to share, accept or develop nuclear weapons technology. It is easy to say that it has not worked because other countries, such as North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel, have clearly developed nuclear weapons, but many other countries have not. South Africa, for example, specifically renounced the development of nuclear weapons, which helped to bring about an Africa nuclear weapons-free zone. We also have such zones in Latin America and central Asia, so the steps have been enormous.

The significance of the 2010 and 2015 review conferences was in the discussion about the middle east weapons of mass destruction-free zone. That is a bit of a mouthful, but the point was for it to cover the whole middle east and therefore to include both Iran and Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia. That would mean negotiated talks including both Israel and Iran. I do not expect them to agree on everything, and they may well disagree on many things, but everyone must see that taking a step towards a nuclear weapons-free zone in the middle east is a huge opportunity. The issue was pushed forward in 2010 and discussed again in 2015, and that step forward has not totally happened by any means, but we did get the weapons agreement with Iran, and that is now back on the agenda.

Together with the all-party parliamentary group on Iran, I have been on visits to Iran and indeed to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to push that agenda forward, and we have a great opportunity to do that again. I hope the Minister will tell us that the Government are serious about resurrecting the deal that Donald Trump did so much to sink—by the way, that is an international agreement, not a bilateral agreement between the US and anybody else, as Donald Trump probably thought it was. I think that that is a positive development.

There are two other positive points about the global ban on nuclear weapons, as mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Pavilion and for Cynon Valley. The ban is widely supported around the world, with 60 countries—a large number—having endorsed, signed and ratified it, so the idea that Britain cannot engage in any way is going against the wishes of the vast majority of the world’s nations, which have very different political views and aspirations. Instead, we are expanding our number of nuclear warheads and we have signed the AUKUS pact with the US and Australia. While that is not specifically a nuclear agreement, two nuclear-armed countries are involved in it, and Australia is apparently willing to host whatever the US wishes to place there. We should therefore pause for a moment and think.

This is not an academic debate; it is a matter of enormous seriousness. I totally condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There has to be a ceasefire and a long-term settlement of some sort that will give peace to the people of Ukraine, Russia and, in particular, the Donbas. But it must be obvious to anyone in the world that a nuclear-armed state—Russia—is directly involved in the conflict and that NATO, which is obviously nuclear-armed to a huge degree, is supplying large amounts of weapons to Ukraine. So there is a serious danger—obviously, I hope this never happens—that this thing proliferates into a nuclear war. That should at least give us some pause for thought and concentrate our minds on where we go on this.

I hope the Government can play a positive role in New York, and perhaps explain to the rest of the world why at this time we are increasing the number of nuclear warheads we have. The others of the five declared nuclear weapon states—China, Russia, France and the US—are also apparently increasing their number of nuclear warheads, despite a period in the 1990s when that number reduced. I hope that we will be serious about the negotiations and our participation.

Those who attended the Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons—my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy attended it, for example—listened to the victims of nuclear war. The victims were elderly people in Japan who survived but lost family or have suffered cancers ever since, because of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki—very small compared with the nuclear weapons now available—or, with harrowing stories, nuclear-test victims from all around the world. They include British, American and French servicemen, and peoples of the Marshall Islands and so many places around the world who have suffered the effects of nuclear testing. We should think carefully about that.

I will conclude with this point: we have a whole generation now who do not really appreciate what a nuclear weapon does. It is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, completely indiscriminate in who it affects. There is no such thing as a targeted nuclear attack or a battlefield nuclear weapon; a nuclear weapon kills everything within its reach, in the area surrounding a nuclear explosion, and it leaves behind a residue of cancerous materials, there for decades and decades to come, polluting the atmosphere and the oceans.

Anyone who would seriously contemplate using a nuclear weapon, knowing that millions will die as a result, with the potential for a further disaster after that, needs to think very seriously about what humanity is about and what we are about. On 6 August we commemorate Hiroshima Day, and 9 August is Nagasaki Day. Those were the only times that nuclear weapons have been used in war, but they have been used in tests and threats ever since.

Please, let us be serious about the non-proliferation treaty review conference and about how we can help to bring about, seriously, a nuclear-free world. It is within our grasp. As a country that has nuclear weapons—we developed them after the second world war and maintain them—we are in a strong position to say, “We will take a lead. We want to follow the NPT in its words, its letter and its spirit, and help to bring about that change.” We have to talk peace at some point; and while there is a war going on, this is the most ideal time to talk about peace. That is really what we are all striving for.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities) 4:53 pm, 13th July 2022

I had not put my name down to speak in this debate, but I am happy to make a brief contribution to reinforce what I said to Beth Winter. The key point that I want to make is that nuclear weapons are located in Scotland, although the elected representatives of our country in our own Parliament and in this Parliament oppose them. That is a democratically unsustainable position. They are weapons of mass destruction that are morally and economically inappropriate to any of the threats that we face today. I am grateful to you, Mr Dowd, for giving me the chance to put that position on the record. That is all I would like to say for now.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mr Dowd, and to follow my good friend from Eastwood, my hon. Friend Kirsten Oswald—remember, no one ever criticised a speech for being too short. Those were excellent points well made. I also welcome the Minister to his place. This is our first debate together, and I look forward to many happy adventures at the Dispatch Box together.

It is a pleasure to wind up for the SNP in this consensual debate. I congratulate Caroline Lucas on securing it, because it is important that we take stock in advance of the review conference in the treaty’s 50th anniversary year. Opposition to nuclear weapons and the cause of nuclear disarmament are, for my party—not just for part of my party, but for all of my party—matters of deep, deep principle.

It is worth explaining to colleagues present that the modern SNP sprang in large part out of the anti-nuclear movement and the Stop the War Coalition. Opposition to nuclear weapons is in the SNP’s DNA, and I am deeply proud to walk alongside friends and colleagues on marches and protests in opposition to nuclear weapons. I am proud to be a member of a party with such a clear ambition and stance.

We aspire to be an independent state and an enthusiastic non-nuclear member of the EU, the UN, international fora and NATO. The vast majority of NATO states—27 out of 30—are non-nuclear, and Scotland aspires to that status, so it is logical that we are an enthusiastic supporter of the non-proliferation treaty. We have high hopes for the 50th review conference, and we have hopes, at least—I hope they are not dashed—for the UK Government’s participation in it.

The treaty’s importance was arguably set out best by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the last review conference in 2018:

“The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is an essential pillar of international peace and security, and the heart of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Its unique status is based on its near universal membership, legally-binding obligations on disarmament, verifiable non-proliferation safeguards regime, and commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

That principle was echoed recently by NATO at the Madrid conference last month, when it endorsed the NPT in the strategic concept. The conclusions of the Madrid conference state:

“The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the essential bulwark against the spread of nuclear weapons, and we remain strongly committed to its full implementation, including Article VI. NATO’s goal is to create the security environment for a world without nuclear weapons, consistent with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

We are all signed up. The UK is a signatory to the treaty and has ratified it, so I call for more action from the Minister. I would be the first to support and applaud more action if we see it, and I say that with a clear conscience and in good faith. I have two main questions for the Minister. We need to see what the UK’s stance is going into the August conference, so will he publish something so that we can hold the Government to account? Will he commit to making a statement in the House after the conference so that we can likewise hold the Government to account for what they said at the time? Those are two concrete questions.

I extend a hand of friendship to the Minister and the Government. We are all signed up to these aims, but signing up to stuff is easy; making it happen is what makes the difference in the world. The UK is in a position to lead, but we have not seen much leadership to date. Scotland wants to be a nuclear-free independent state, but I would work with anybody to see the UK take a lead in nuclear disarmament for the better future of us all.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:57 pm, 13th July 2022

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. Thank you for being here this afternoon.

I thank Caroline Lucas for stepping in at the last minute and opening this debate on behalf of my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury, who secured it. It could not come at a more important time, as all Members said, especially as Russia continues to recklessly wage an unjustified and illegal war in Ukraine.

We have had a very interesting set of speeches, and there has been a lot of unanimity. I hope the Minister’s response will continue the unanimity, because this is one of the most important treaties ever signed in the history of human society—certainly the history of the United Nations.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion opened the debate by saying that the specific number of warheads in the UK stockpile is not published anywhere. Will the Minister correct that? The hon. Lady said, and I agree, that there is no transparency, in line with our obligations to the non-proliferation treaty. Importantly, she said—again, I hope the Minister will put us right on this—that no Minister has yet been allocated to attend the NPT review conference in New York. It should be the Foreign Secretary, or at least the Foreign Secretary should be there for part of it. I am hoping to be there myself as an observer.

The aim of the NPT is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. An inconsistent approach to multilateral nuclear disarmament seems to be emerging from the British Government, although I hope that is not the case. We want to be consistent. We want all parties in the country and the Government to agree on this.

The hon. Lady said that the security of a nation is about more than simply the weapons we hold. She is absolutely right. It is vital, it seems to me and to the Labour party, that we look at food security, energy security and the terrible inequality from which many nations in the world suffer, as I saw recently on my visit to Colombia. That is what brings security: if we reduce inequality and ensure the security of food, energy and housing, we can have a more sustainable and much more secure human society and planet. She said that a nuclear-free world is possible.

My hon. Friend Beth Winter spoke about the horrors of the use of nuclear weapons, quoting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and was echoed by my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn. The NPT demands, eventually, the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Are we going down that path at the moment? We have to conclude that that is not happening. We are increasing stockpiles not just in the UK but across the world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley said that the Ukraine war has resurrected fears of a nuclear war. I remember from my campaigning youth as a student the fears we had of living under the threat of nuclear war. It seems that many generations have lived under that fear, and the NPT offers the hope that we can reverse that position. She said that she deplores the 40% increase in the number of warheads in the UK stockpile. We need an answer as to why that is necessary. I cannot understand it either. We all live under the threat of nuclear weapons being used.

We then heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North. He said that this is an opportunity for the Government to set out their plans for what they will do at the NPT review conference. He is absolutely right: we would like to know. Here is an issue where we can all agree on a policy put forward by the British Government—there are not many of those right now. It would be a really good gain for this Parliament and this country if we could do that.

My right hon. Friend said that a large number of Governments across the world treat this issue with great seriousness, and so should we. The non-proliferation treaty has achieved a great deal in its 50 years. He mentioned the JCPOA—the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran—which should be resurrected. I hope we will hear more about that from the Minister. There is a serious danger—we all feel this, don’t we?—that the Ukraine war could escalate into a nuclear war. That would be the end.

We heard briefly from Kirsten Oswald, who more or less said that she would like to see nuclear weapons removed from Scottish soil. I think we would all like to see nuclear weapons—

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for indulging me. I want to be very clear: I would like to see nuclear weapons removed from all shores across the world. There is no place for nuclear weapons in the world. They resolve none of the challenges the world faces today. He has set that out very clearly himself.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. Lady interrupted me in saying exactly that. We want to see the non-proliferation treaty taken to its logical conclusion, which is the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons. That seems a vain hope that the moment, but we know as politicians that unless we have those hopes and aims, unless we look to the future and have a vision for a better world, we will certainly never achieve it. We may fail in our lifetimes, but we must have that vision and hope—that determination —to aim for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

As we have heard, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is the most successful international treaty in history. It has prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the world and has almost certainly deterred some rogue states from easily accessing the materials needed for nuclear weapons programmes. It is therefore vital that the review conference in New York in August provides fresh impetus towards further nuclear non-proliferation. As a nuclear power, it is really important that the UK acts responsibly and throws its entire diplomatic weight behind this review conference in the NPT’s 50th year. We need to play our part alongside other nuclear powers to ensure that a nuclear conflict can never take place, because we all know that if it did, the destruction would reach every corner of our world and kill millions and millions—not only human beings, but all living creatures.

Non-signatories to the NPT and those who continually flout its obligations should also form an important part of the review conference. Given regional tensions, it is vital that we put as much diplomatic pressure as we can on India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and indeed South Sudan to finally sign and ratify this historic treaty. As far as we know, South Sudan has no nuclear weapons, but it has not signed the treaty.

It is also important to hold to account countries such as Iran that continue to pursue nuclear weapons programmes—that, of course, flies in the face of its commitments within the NPT. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what recent discussions the Government have had with those countries about signing up to the NPT, even if they refuse to attend the review conference. Of course, North Korea was once signed up and then withdrew from it. Can it be persuaded to sign up to the NPT again?

My party has a long and proud history of action on nuclear non-proliferation. While we are clear that the Labour party is steadfastly committed to our nuclear deterrent, we also understand that, as a nuclear power, we must act responsibly. That is why Labour Governments signed the NPT in 1968—as hon. and right hon. Members have mentioned today—signed the comprehensive test ban treaty, and phased out tactical nuclear weapons in 1998. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North said, there is no such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon; it destroys every living being and creature in its path.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

Order. Just a reminder: we expect a vote at around 5.17 pm.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Oh, gosh. I am sorry; I didn’t realise that.

Continuing that rich history of multilateral non-proliferation is the right thing to do—to act now and use Britain’s position as a nuclear-armed state to convene a nuclear forum to discuss the next generation of arms control, including on hypersonic missiles. The non-proliferation treaty review conference is just around the corner and is the perfect opportunity for the UK to put non-proliferation back on the global political agenda at such a vital time.

With that in mind, it is worrying that the Government have, as part of their integrated review, decided to increase the cap on the amount of nuclear weapons the UK can hold. We in the Opposition all believe that sends the wrong message to our international partners. It also came without justification. Does the Minister have any update on the justification for that increase? How does he believe it will impact on our participation at the NPT review conference?

We must also look to the NPT review conference to hold discussions on the other important non-proliferation treaties, especially the comprehensive test ban treaty, because the United States has still not ratified it. Does the Minister have any plans to discuss that with his US counterpart? Beyond the political and diplomatic process, it is vital that we remember the human consequences of nuclear testing. We must honour those who risked their wellbeing in nuclear testing on behalf of this country, but also encourage other Governments to do the same in areas such as Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, where significant cancer clusters have been linked to previous nuclear tests. The horrific consequences of nuclear testing for those communities exposed to nuclear test fallout should be a driving force in bringing Governments to the negotiating table. Our country can be a force for good for a more secure world, and it is about time that we reclaimed that moral duty.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 5:08 pm, 13th July 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am grateful to Ruth Cadbury for securing the debate ahead of the NPT review conference in August, and to Caroline Lucas for stepping in and leading it.

I completely agree with the shadow Minister, Fabian Hamilton on the quality of the debate that we have enjoyed this afternoon. I will try to respond to as many of the points raised as possible in the perhaps eight minutes before we vote.

We had a mention of RAF Lakenheath. It remains long-standing UK and NATO policy neither to confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons at a given location. The UK does not have a policy of no first use because—this goes to the heart of much of what we are discussing—the credibility of the deterrent rests on the conviction that we would bring all means to bear to ensure the security of the UK and our allies.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion referred to the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. The TPNW fails to address the obstacles that must be overcome to achieve lasting global disarmament and offers no solutions to the challenges posed by what is, as hon. Members suggested and with which I agree, a deteriorating security environment. The TPNW will not lead us closer to a world without nuclear weapons and risks creating division within the international community, at a time when we need to focus on building consensus and strengthening the NPT to make progress on disarmament together.

What I have picked up, enjoyed and appreciated in the debate—Jeremy Corbyn was particularly fluent on the point, but hon. Members across the Chamber picked it up—is the recognition of the importance of the NPT. It is a remarkably successful treaty. Over the last 52 years, the NPT has been the cornerstone of global nuclear security and civil nuclear prosperity.

In 1960, as the right hon. Member for Islington North mentioned, President Kennedy predicted that there could be up to 20 nations with nuclear weapons as soon as 1964. Yet today the number of nuclear-armed states remains in single figures, thanks to the NPT. It is important that we recognise that and cement that progress, although I recognise people will want other initiatives. The NPT has extended access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It has prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It has provided a framework for significant levels of disarmament since the cold war peak. It has been remarkably successful.

Now, after two years of delay, we are delighted that states will be able to come together next month in New York to review implementation and take forward the objectives of the treaty. The UK remains committed to full implementation of the NPT in all its aspects. We are a nuclear weapons state that takes its responsibilities seriously. We are committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, where all states share in the peaceful uses of nuclear technologies.

At the review conference, the UK will work constructively with states parties for a successful outcome. We will mark the progress of the past 50 years and call on all states to reaffirm their commitment to the three pillars of the treaty—disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Celebrating success does not mean ignoring reality. Since the last conference in 2015, we have seen a significant deterioration in the security environment and the treaty faces a number of challenges. We have previously identified risks to the UK from major nuclear-armed states and emerging nuclear states. Those risks have not gone away, and some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals. They are investing in novel nuclear technologies and developing new warfighting nuclear systems, which they are integrating into their military strategies and doctrines, and into their political rhetoric, to seek to coerce others. The increase in global competition and the proliferation of potentially disruptive technologies mean there are new threats to strategic stability.

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which the right hon. Member for Islington North rightly and fully condemned, is a dramatic demonstration of the risks we face. We do not underestimate the challenges. They make strengthening the NPT more important. The treaty is not an academic document. It must live in the real world and adapt to address modern challenges. We believe the NPT provides the only credible route to nuclear disarmament.

The UK Government are proud of our contribution to the NPT’s success and of our own track record. We set out the steps we have taken since 2015 in the UK’s national report, published last November. I refer those asking for clarity on the UK’s views and objectives to that report. It sets them out. Our views have not changed since that report. If people have already read it, they should look again. We share the aspirations of all states parties to the NPT for a world without nuclear weapons. Disarmament cannot be done unilaterally or in a single leap. It requires a series of incremental, mutually reinforcing steps.

Building such a framework requires the active participation of the entire international community. Rallying their many disparate interests presents a huge diplomatic challenge, but it is one in which the United Kingdom has already played a significant role. We have pioneered work in nuclear disarmament verification, championed transparency and advanced understanding on irreversibility. In December we published a food for thought paper, outlining one vision for how to get to a world without nuclear weapons in support of the forthcoming review conference that hon. Members have mentioned.

We have pressed for significant steps towards multilateral disarmament, including the entry into force of the comprehensive test ban treaty and successful negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. It is the comprehensive test ban treaty that deals with the testing issues, which have been referred to by hon. Members, as opposed to the NPT. We possess the smallest stockpile. That is worth noting, given the impression that in some way the UK has not been stepping up: we possess the smallest stockpile of any of the nuclear weapon states recognised by the NPT, and we are the only one to maintain a single delivery system—

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle

Order. There is a Division in the House.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle 6:05 pm, 13th July 2022

Order. I apologise to the Minister for rudely interrupting him earlier on. He can carry on where he left off.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Thank you, Mr Dowd. It is a pleasure to be back. I am grateful to Members for returning to the debate.

We remain committed to our article 6 obligation to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. Reducing the risk of nuclear conflict remains a priority and we believe that short-term progress, in line with many of the contributions we have had, is achievable. We should seek to foster dialogue, which many Members have mentioned, both among states possessing nuclear weapons and between states possessing nuclear weapons and non-nuclear weapon states in order to increase understanding and reduce the risk of misinterpretation and miscalculation.

Although we recognise that work on risk reduction does not replace disarmament obligations, we see it as a complementary and necessary step to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict and enhance mutual trust and security. We will continue to work with international partners, civil society and academia to build mutual trust and create the environment for further progress on disarmament.

The UK works to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. We have sought to strengthen the international nuclear safeguard system and the International Atomic Energy Agency through our diplomatic efforts and through direct assistance from our nuclear safeguards programme. We will encourage all states that have not yet done so to sign, ratify and implement safeguards agreements. We will promote the ratification of security conventions and seek universal commitment to the additional protocol and a comprehensive safeguards agreement, which together provide credible assurances of the absence of undeclared nuclear activities and will strengthen the non-proliferation architecture. Nevertheless, the UK recognises that significant regional risks remain, particularly from Iran and North Korea. They have been highlighted in the debate. We are working hard to combat the risk of proliferation and remain firmly committed to ensuring coherence to the NPT and the IAEA safeguards regime to ensure global safety and stability.

Finally, the UK has encouraged and will continue to encourage the development and exchange of peaceful nuclear technologies, enabled by the NPT. Nuclear technologies have a critical part to play in tackling climate change, for instance, not only in helping to achieve net zero, but also through nuclear applications such as helping to improve food security and agricultural resilience. The technologies can help countries to adapt and become more resilient to climate change. They are also vital to global health, as they are used to treat cancer and prevent the spread of insect-borne disease. We want the review conference to highlight the significant global contribution that the peaceful use of nuclear technology makes to improving people’s lives and advancing progress to the UN sustainable development goals.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

I am interested in the outline that the Minister is giving us of what will happen in New York. Could he assure us—I think a number of my colleagues raised the question—that Britain will be represented by a suitably empowered delegation that can take part in serious discussions about building alliances for the future? These conferences do not normally come to a huge conclusion themselves, but they often point to a direction for the future. I would like assurance that this country will be adequately represented, so that we can go forward on this. Also, can we possibly offer up at least a reduction in nuclear stockpiles as part of our negotiations?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

It is not our practice to announce in advance who will be attending. What I can tell him is that we are very much looking forward to it. It has already been delayed. I hope that the rest of my speech has made clear that we take this as a serious opportunity and aim to make the most of it.

We have published a working paper on a new sustained dialogue on peaceful uses, which aims to help overcome barriers to accessing the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear technologies. We continue to urge all non-NPT states to sign and ratify the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states as soon as possible.

There are a number of issues, and I will try to deal with some that have been raised. The spokesman for Her Majesty’s Opposition, the hon. Member for Leeds North East, raised the point that the UK supports the universalisation of the NPT. Though we cannot force any state to join, we discuss the importance of the NPT with all states at all levels, and whenever we engage with states. We regularly seek to encourage India and Pakistan, for example, to join the NPT.

On Scotland hosting nuclear weapons, the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is a national endeavour benefiting the whole of the UK, and it underpins the security of this nation and that of our allies. By way of information, I note that recent opinion polls show that Trident enjoys 58% support among young Scots, even though the SNP and Green Ministers in the Scottish Government wish to see us remove it and even leave NATO altogether—[Interruption.] I do not think the SNP can have it both ways. It wants to have an independent Scotland and join NATO, which is perhaps what Kirsten Oswald will say, while also removing part of its nuclear deterrent.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I wonder if I can point the Minister back to the speech that my hon. Friend Alyn Smith made only a few minutes ago. He set out our policy position very clearly, and I do not think that it is helpful for the Minister to represent what has been said in an entirely different way. It is not for the Minister to determine what happens to people in Scotland and whether nuclear weapons are situated there. That is something that rightly and properly should be for those who are democratically elected by the Scottish people.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As the hon. Lady will be aware, that is a matter for the UK Government, and this Parliament of the Union reflects the whole of the United Kingdom, including the people of Scotland.

Alyn Smith requested that we should put on paper our position on the New York conference. I have already directed him to our November 2021 national report, and I am confident that the Government will update the House after the rev con in due course.

On the point made by the right hon. Member for Islington North about having a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the middle east, we remain committed to that and firmly believe it can be achieved only by consensus of all the states of the region. I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we continue to push for that.

I hope that has addressed most of the points that right hon. and hon. Members have made. The right hon. Member for Islington North also made a point about the humanitarian impact. The UK recognises the importance of engaging with the humanitarian consequences debate and listening to the views of non-nuclear weapon states. However, we believe that that conference was co-opted by civil society organisations to press for unilateral disarmament, which obviously is not the policy of this country. It was on that basis that the UK decided not to attend.

I hope that I have dealt reasonably with right hon. and hon. Members’ points. We will be able to discuss any further ones following the New York conference, and I look forward to working with Members of different parties in doing so.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

In response to what the Minister just said and what my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton said earlier, after the NPT conference will the Minister be in a position to make a statement or ensure there is a debate, so that Members of the House can raise in discussion what actually happened at the conference? Too often, these conferences have huge energy put into them but there is not much parliamentary discussion afterwards. If the Minister was prepared to guarantee that there will be some kind of statement, that would be very helpful.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that fresh in my post as I am, I am not yet briefed as to whether I am in a position to guarantee that, but I am quite sure that Members in this Chamber are more than capable of ensuring that we follow up on that conference, whether in this format or another. In common with the right hon. Gentleman, I would hope that would occur, given the seriousness of the issue and the fact that it must not disappear from parliamentary debate or drift out of sight.

To conclude, the NPT remains essential to the maintenance of a safe and secure world, and I am delighted to have such cross-party support for that. At the 10th review conference, the UK is ready to work with all states parties and partners from across the international community and civil society to achieve a meaningful outcome that contributes to the preservation, universal adoption and, of course, full, ultimate implementation of that treaty, which had such foresight so many decades ago.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 6:15 pm, 13th July 2022

I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. It has been constructive, even though there is obviously a vast gulf between the position of the Minister and that of most of the rest of the Members in the Chamber. I still wonder how on earth he could look himself in the mirror if he really was going to give the green light to using nuclear weapons first. Sometimes we do not necessarily think through the impacts of the positions Governments take and what they would mean in humanitarian terms; I would encourage all of us to do that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the 50th anniversary review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Sitting adjourned.