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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
UK to 'lead bid for arms treaty'
Margaret Beckett at a conference on arms control
Mrs Beckett said the UK had a coalition of support for a treaty
The UK is to spearhead attempts to secure an international arms trade treaty, Margaret Beckett has pledged.

She promised to seek "real progress" at the United Nations after she was presented with a 150,000-strong petition backing calls for action.

Joint support of groups such as Oxfam, Amnesty International and the Defence Manufacturers Association would bolster the case, the foreign secretary said.

The PM backs the campaign for a treaty to make suppliers more accountable.

'Untold misery'

But Barbara Stocking, Oxfam GB director, said while she was grateful to the government for taking a stand, it was now "time for action".

She spoke out ahead of the UN Small Arms and Light Weapons Review Conference which begins on 26 June and which is seen as the first opportunity to move towards global controls.

Mrs Beckett said: "Millions of people, particularly in the world's worst conflict regions, suffer untold misery because of the unregulated trade in arms.

"The humanitarian and moral case for an arms trade treaty is unassailable, but our task is to turn that strong moral case into real progress on the ground.

"By coming together to argue for the setting of universal standards for prevent illegal and irresponsible trade in arms, we are showing that an arms trade treaty can be in the interests of responsible defence companies as well as human rights and development campaigners."

'Strict laws needed'

While she admitted it would be "tough" to reach global agreement, she vowed to press the case for a treaty at the UN and elsewhere.

The UK is working on the drafting of a resolution to put to the UN, she said.

Major General Alan Sharman, director general of the Defence Manufacturers Association, threw his support behind the campaign, but stressed that the industry also had "less altruistic" motives.

He argued that the applying the same strict laws that were in force for UK firms would help improve the image of the industry.

The petition, which features the faces of more than 150,000 people from the UK, has been endorsed by one million people across the world.

The Liberal Democrats criticised Mrs Beckett for not planning to attend next week's United Nations meeting - instead junior international development minister Gareth Thomas will represent the UK.

Lib Dem defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: "The conference is a vital stepping stone towards the adoption of an International Arms Trade Treaty (IATT) and the foreign secretary's absence is a missed opportunity."

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