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Cluster Munitions

Volume 451: debated on Monday 30 October 2006

5. What assessment he has made of the effect of the proliferation of cluster munitions and their use by non-state actors. (97413)

We constantly assess threats to our deployed forces, including the security environment in which they operate. To date, that has not required specific assessments of the effects of the proliferation of cluster munitions and their use by non-state actors.

I thank the Minister for his reply. As the conflict in Lebanon shows, cluster munitions have a widespread and damaging impact on innocent civilians, both during and after conflict, so why are the Government refusing to support an international ban on the use of those manifestly indiscriminate weapons?

There was, of course, evidence that Hezbollah used such weapons. Clearly, the Israelis did as well, and we have raised that with the Israeli Government. Why are we opposed to a ban? This subject has been looked at across the range of nations that have an interest in it. If properly used, such weapons are consistent with international humanitarian law. The matter is constantly reviewed. The hon. Gentleman is saying that we should take a capability out of the hands of our forces which could result in a situation in which, if they were deployed, British soldiers’ lives could be lost. If that is what he is advocating and we ban such weapons, what is the next thing that he will want us to ban? Will he want our soldiers to have no weapons at all?

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report by Human Rights Watch that condemned the use of cluster bombs against Jews in Israel as a war crime? Has he further seen the Amnesty International report that said that the indiscriminate use of rockets and their bombs on, again, Jews in northern Israel was also a war crime? Does he share the assessment of those two organisations that the actions of Hezbollah, with regard to cluster bombs and the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Jews in Israel, constitute a war crime?

It is not for me to judge what is, and what is not, a war crime; that is best left to those who have judicial responsibility for such matters. I know that my right hon. Friend is only too well aware of the role of non-state actors and how ruthless they are—of what global terrorism does. There are no controls on such actors. They do not need to observe any law—international or any other—and they have total disregard for the lives of civilians. That is not the case in respect of the United Kingdom. We go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that, when we deploy forces and they are in conflict situations, every effort is made to minimise civilian casualties, if that is possible. That is not the case with regard to non-state actors, and I think that we shall see more brutal use of weapons of very evil choice by global terrorists in the years ahead. They are the ones whom we should be targeting it is they whom we are trying to deal with in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever else they might manifest themselves.