The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today welcomed a speech made by Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, understood to have been discussed extensively with Gordon Brown, pledging to make the UK a “disarmament laboratory” . The speech is said to mark the beginnings of multilateral nuclear disarmament being treated as a major foreign policy priority of the Brown premiership.

Speaking at the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference in Washington DC earlier today, Beckett said “The sense of stagnation is real enough. There is a dangerous absence of debate at the highest levels on disarmament and a collective inability thus far to come up with a clear plan.”

She went on to outline the need for work on implementing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, a new transparent verification regime and major reductions in the huge US and Russian stockpiles, a pressing issue after the Bush administration announced last month it would allow the START 1 treaty to expire in 2009.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said “A strong commitment to multilateral disarmament by Gordon Brown would be of great significance. This is a very positive speech, echoing many of the demands CND has long been making.”

She continued “What we need now are specifics. If Britain is truly to be the ‘disarmament laboratory’ referred to by the Foreign Secretary we need specific initiatives to break out of the current logjam on nuclear weapons. First of all we need to reduce tension around nuclear use policy. Britain must rule out both nuclear first strike and the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state – a threat last used by the Defence Secretary in the run-up to the Iraq war. Then we need to make progress towards disarmament. Mrs Beckett said that if the conditions were right, we would get rid of Britain’s nuclear weapons. The government must now help create those conditions. Words are one thing: action is another.”

There is great international demand for action towards nuclear disarmament, with many non-nuclear weapon states deeply frustrated at the lack of compliance by the five nuclear weapon states with their nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations to disarm. CND, alongside a number of non-nuclear weapon states and other campaigning organisations, has been calling for negotiations based on the draft Nuclear Weapons Convention currently lodged with the UN . This would outlaw nuclear weapons in the same way that chemical and biological weapons and landmines have been outlawed.