The UN mine centre estimates there are about 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets in southern Lebanon. They obviously pose a continuing threat to life, and it will take an estimated 12 to 15 months to clear them. That is why the UK provided £1.5 million for the clearance of those munitions in the immediate aftermath of the fighting and why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently announced a further £1.2 million for the purpose.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but the humanitarian consequences of the use of cluster munitions in south Lebanon are absolutely desperate. Does he not feel a certain frustration that—while the Government, through his Department, are investing in the clearance programmes in south Lebanon—the Ministry of Defence continues to support and condone the use of cluster munitions, thus ensuring the depressing certainty that next time we go in to clear up the aftermath of a conflict, the situation will be exactly the same?
No, I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view of my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. They—together with colleagues in the Foreign Office, working with the Department for International Development—have led the effort to make progress in securing a long-term treaty that properly brings in all the major users and producers of cluster munitions. He will know from the statements that have been released on the issue that we are working, first through a group of Government experts, to resolve some of the basic technical questions about cluster munitions that have yet to be resolved. We hope that that will achieve its desired outcome over the next 12 months, so that we can then move forward to the meaningful negotiations that we all want across Whitehall to get the major users and producers into a legally binding treaty.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue is not about how we pay in aid for the clearance of cluster bombs, but about the fact that they should not be used in civilian areas at all? Will he take that fight to the United Nations to ensure that they are not used in civilian areas?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that cluster munitions, where they are used, should be used in line with the principles of international humanitarian law. The humanitarian impact is one of the questions that will be considered by the group of Government experts. As I say, there is an initial 12-month process in which those experts will look at the definitions, as I have described, and we then want to move on, through the UN process, to meaningful long-term negotiations to get all the major users and producers of those munitions bound into an international treaty.