I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [Lords], has consented to place her prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We are grateful to Her Majesty, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I do not need to clarify for right hon. and hon. Members why the Bill is important, but it is perhaps worth recalling that many thousands of people have been killed by cluster munitions in the 40 years since they have been in regular use. Some 60 per cent. of those killed or injured became casualties in the ordinary business of their daily lives, rather than military activity. A third of those killed or injured were children. In many ways, the submunitions that come from the cluster munitions can be far more lethal and dangerous than anti-personnel land mines, on which we have already taken action to stop using and to ban. Submunitions disperse across a wide area and many do not explode on contact with the ground, leading to a far higher percentage of those engaged being killed.
At least 15 countries have used cluster munitions, including the United Kingdom. Eighty-five countries have stockpiles, which run to some billions of cluster munitions around the world, and at least 24 countries have been affected by their use.
Before the Minister moves too far away from civilian casualties, will he ignore the Tory briefing on the Bill and put saving children’s lives and limbs well before saving British cluster bomb manufacturing jobs, which should be redirected to better effect?
Unfortunately, I do not get Tory party briefings. If the hon. Gentleman is still getting them, there must be something very wrong with the Tory party machine. I wonder whether he is still getting UKIP briefings. In any case, if he wishes to pass them on to me, I would be more than happy to use them—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) wishes to send them to me directly, that might be quicker.
If the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) is getting the briefings, they might be described as unexploded briefs.
On a more serious note, does the Minister agree that if cluster munitions were used in first-world countries rather than distant and impoverished third-world countries with weak international voices, there would be an outcry? We would never dream of allowing such munitions to be deployed here or in the US, but we are willing to allow those very dangerous devices to be used in far-off countries, where the collateral damage is rarely suffered by western civilian and military personnel.
That is not entirely true, because in some cases people working in non-governmental organisations, charities and development organisations in other parts of the world have been affected. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Sometimes, we think that there has been peace because there has been peace in our backyard, but some of the most prolonged usage of cluster munitions was in Europe’s backyard—in Kosovo. We have to be vigilant and ensure that we do not think that by completing this legislative process in the next few weeks, we have solved the problem. Some countries will still have not ratified the convention, some have not signed up to it, and some are still stockpiling and using cluster munitions.
I shall run through the process that led to the Bill. By the beginning of the 21st century, everybody had started to recognise the significant problem in terms of fairness and equity with the use of cluster munitions in warfare. For a long time, it has been recognised that everything in war is not always fair. In 1868, the St. Petersburg declaration renounced the use in time of war of explosive projectiles under 400 grams in weight. That was the first piece of legislation agreed by the great world powers of the time that stated categorically any limit on what should or should not be used in war. The banning of explosive or fulminating devices on the grounds of equity and fairness in war was a very important first principle that led to The Hague conventions of 1899 and 1907, the first of which banned hollow-point bullets and chemical warfare, and continued with the 1925 Geneva protocol to The Hague convention, which, in response to the use of mustard gas during the first world war, banned all chemical and biological warfare. The process continued all the way to the Landmines Act 1998, which banned the use of anti-personnel land mines. There has been a constant process of attempts to refine our view of a just way of waging war, compared with an unjust way.
In February 2007, the Norwegian Foreign Secretary issued the Oslo declaration, urging the countries of the world to bring forward by the end of 2008 a convention to prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. It is a tribute not only to the work of the Norwegian Government but to the international community that by 30 May 2008, at the Dublin diplomatic conference, it was possible to agree the convention that we seek to put into legislative form today. Two elements were important in achieving that so speedily. First, there had been a long discussion about whether only so-called smart cluster munitions should be banned, or whether both smart and dumb cluster munitions should be banned; it was concluded that it was the use of cluster munitions in themselves that was the problem. That was the right conclusion, and it is good that we reached that accord. Secondly, the UK rightly had a change of policy. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for effectively brokering the deal in Dublin and ensuring that we reached agreement on the convention that has now been signed up to and ratified by more than 30 members. The last two members to ratify did so only a few weeks ago.
Having brokered the deal, we were keen to move forward as swiftly as we could in the UK to ensure that we relinquished and destroyed our remaining stockpile of cluster munitions as fast as possible.
This is an important issue. Although we congratulate Norway on taking the initiative and it is pleasing to see Britain moving into line with many other countries, some countries—China, Russia, Pakistan, Israel and the US—continue to manufacture and probably use these munitions. What is being done to try to bring on board more signatories and what will we do to prevent financiers and companies from producing and stockpiling those weapons?
The hon. Gentleman is right: what we want is a world without cluster munitions. We therefore hope that, in the end, every country will sign up to and ratify the convention and cease using cluster munitions. By signing up to the convention, they would also commit themselves to encourage others to do the same and to try to prevent the direct financing of the production and transfer of cluster munitions, as well as indirect financial support for them. That is what we have tried to set out as clearly as possible in the Bill. It contains clear commitments on direct financing and we are keen to make progress as quickly as we can on an agreement on the indirect financing as well.
The Minister slightly skipped over the Government’s change of heart. Initially we agreed to ban the dumb weapons, such as the BL755 and the M26, but we would continue to use the smart versions. That position has now changed, but given that it was clearly thought at the time that the smart weapon had a role to play, has the Minister received any representations from the Ministry of Defence about the effect that the Government’s change of heart may have on our armed forces?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the question of how the measure impacts on the armed forces. The MOD has worked with clear and swift purpose to ensure that there is no conflict for individual members of our armed forces. In particular, in Committee we may wish to look at the interoperability questions as outlined in clause 9. He is right in saying that we need to take care to ensure that we have the right command structure and orders in place for our personnel, so that they are legally protected when they are operating in conflicts alongside personnel from other countries, which may not be signatories to the convention.
The Government are right to introduce the Bill, but I hope that the Minister is managing his expectations, for the reasons cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood). In particular, I would mention the use of white phosphorus, which we abhor but which is being used against civilian targets by states that should know better.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) made reference to the BL755 and the M26 multiple rocket launch system, which are dumb munitions. There could be munitions from other countries—the United States—on British soil that will remain here after we have passed the Bill, and the US has not signed up to the convention. How does the Minister respond to that dilemma?
In fact, the US has been reviewing its position and it has decided that it will remove its stockpile from the UK by 2013, so there will be no American cluster munitions based here.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East referred to the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes as gallant. I am sure that he is, but I think that, under the conventions of the House, it is only generals who are referred to as gallant.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are giving me a look that suggests that this might not be a point of order, but you yourself have used the term “gallant” when referring to an hon. Member. I think it absolutely proper that the Minister should be corrected and that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes should be referred to in the proper way.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East is correct on this point—[Interruption.] Order. Members are getting far too excited, and it is only lunchtime. This matter should not detain us long, and it certainly should not distract us from our consideration of the Second Reading of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill. I call the Minister.
As an engineer, perhaps I should be referred to as “the oily and hon. Member for Castle Point”. Will the Minister tell me what would happen if cluster bombs were to be used when our troops were on combined operations with allies such as Pakistan or the United States? Would our troops be prevented from co-operating in the use of cluster bombs? Would they be given legal protection if they were to co-operate?
The hon. and oleaginous Member is right to suggest that we must ensure that clear legal protection is available to our personnel when they are operating alongside troops from countries that are not signatories to and have not ratified the convention, and when cluster munitions might therefore be used. I believe that the Bill provides for that. We have made it absolutely clear that, when the command and the control are ours, there will be no use of cluster munitions and that all the relevant parts of the treaty will apply. I suspect, however, that this will be one of the areas that hon. Members will want to tease out by means of amendments in Committee next week.
The Minister has rightly acknowledged the significant intervention by the Prime Minister in 2008 to change Government policy. That very much changed the climate of the negotiations in Dublin. He and other hon. Members have also acknowledged the lead role that the Norwegian Government played in this cause over the years. Will he also acknowledge, not least because it is St. Patrick’s day, the contribution played at the Dublin diplomatic conference by the former Irish ambassador in this city—namely, Dáthí Ó Ceallaigh—who skilfully brought about a positive conclusion and was able to recruit the Prime Minister’s positive intervention very well?
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. Indeed, I was going to describe how the Irish Government played a significant role in ensuring that we moved forward towards the convention. It is worth pointing out that many people were profoundly sceptical that we would arrive at a convention, or that any of the major countries, such as the United Kingdom or France, would sign up. We need to pay significant tribute to all those involved.
When the 30th ratification took place on 16 February—in fact, both Burkina Faso and Moldova ratified the convention on that date—the United Nations Secretary-General said that this
“major advance on the global disarmament agenda…demonstrates the world’s collective revulsion at the impact of these terrible weapons…during conflict and long after it has ended, they maim and kill scores of civilians, including many children. They impair post-conflict recovery by making roads and land inaccessible to farmers and aid workers.”
That aspect is often forgotten, because the focus is understandably on the loss of life. The effects of cluster munitions can be very indiscriminate because of the way they fall; they can damage water and electricity supplies and other elements that were not the direct target of the military intervention. That is yet another reason why we want to see them banned.
I shall briefly outline what the Bill does, although I am sure that hon. Members have already read it. Clauses 1 to 4 bring in the new offences of using, producing, developing, acquiring, stockpiling, possessing or transferring directly or indirectly cluster munitions, and of making arrangements for others to do so. There is a clear definition of cluster munitions, which we might want to tease out in Committee, which will take place on the Floor of the House. The definition is the one that appears in article 2 of the convention. The Bill provides for a prison term of up to 14 years or a fine. Those provisions are parallel to those set out in the Landmines Act 1998. It also provides for certain defences that may be used. Those are set out in article 3 of the convention.
That is a specific issue that we ought to look at in Committee. The debates in the House of Lords addressed some of these issues, but that is a fair point. The definitions in the Bill merely reflect the precise definitions in the convention, which is what every other country is adhering to. The difficulty of going down a different route from others is that it could result in a degree of legal uncertainty when dealing with other countries that are also signatories to, and have ratified, the convention.
Will the Minister be kind enough to tell me how many signatories and ratifications there are? My information might be slightly out of date, because I am relying on a House of Commons Library note from February, but my understanding is that, at that time, the numbers were limited and the convention had not yet come into force. I want to get the constitutional position straight.
I think I am right in saying that the number of countries that have signed the convention is 104, and the number that have ratified it is 30. Hon. Members might have spotted the fact that there are some significant omissions, and that a number of countries have neither signed nor ratified the convention. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East referred to some of them earlier, and I shall come back to that point. In particular, seven EU member states—Estonia, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia—have not yet signed or ratified. We are keen to encourage all those countries to sign as a matter of urgency.
It is at that level that I am interested. It is clear that there is pretty well universal support for these measures, and it is a bit worrying that some countries are not prepared to sign. Are they simply dragging their heels, or are they not prepared to sign?
It varies enormously from country to country. Some countries are major manufacturers of cluster munitions, and they obviously see a financial reward in continuing to produce them. Some do not accept that their military should be restricted from using cluster munitions. There are some significant countries that fall into both those categories, not least the United States of America. There are others, however, that have never used cluster munitions and do not feel the need to act. As I said, 104 countries have signed, and that is a pretty hefty number. It includes France, Germany and, of course, ourselves. All those countries intend to ratify the convention, but that is taking some time. The convention comes into force when the 30th country ratifies it, which has already happened.
The Minister and I might have slightly different perceptions of the EU, but one of the advantages that it could bring to bear is in the area of defence diversion activity. I am not sure whether this has been looked at yet. Is it possible that those eastern European states that produce cluster munitions could be helped to divert into other forms of production? That would be a laudable way for the EU to operate. Will my hon. Friend look into that?
My hon. Friend normally makes points on Europe with which I profoundly disagree, but he has just made a very fair point, on which I congratulate him. I do not have the facts to hand on whether any of the countries that I have listed are large manufacturers of cluster munitions. I am not sure about Latvia or Greece, for example. It is undoubtedly right to say that for the countries where cluster munitions are still manufactured—and in some number—there is undoubtedly an economic issue that still needs to be addressed.
Reverse seniority, Mr. Speaker.
There could be a situation in which it is not possible to pin down which individual is responsible, as it is the state that is supporting the use of cluster munitions. Let us say that we sent a peacekeeping mission to Georgia, which ran into cluster munitions used by Russia in Abkhazia or South Ossetia. That would be an example of where the state had sponsored the use of them. How does that fit into clause 2, where the offences are laid out?
The hon. Gentleman will know that offences can be perpetrated only by a certain category of people, all of whom are listed in the Bill. Whether Russia was perpetrating the offence is neither here nor there for the purposes of the UK legislation. It is certainly true that Russia is one country we would like to see as a signatory; for that matter, we would like to see Georgia as a signatory as well. I talked about this issue with my Russian counterpart on a recent visit to Russia, but I have to say that I did not receive a very warm response.
Will the Minister enlighten me as to whether I should be surprised that the European Union itself has not managed to encourage all its member states to go along with the proposals? It appears that it has rather failed in its persuasive powers—I thought the EU was supposed to be almighty!
This is where the hon. Gentleman goes so badly wrong. He seems to ascribe omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence to the EU, when we all believe that it should have clearly circumscribed competences, and this is not one of the areas where we believe that it should have a competence. If he wants treaty renegotiations in the near future, we will see where we get with that. On the serious point, it is not for the EU to persuade others to sign up to the convention, but it is for us as signatories to try to persuade other countries to sign up and ratify because that is one of the commitments we make in the convention.
I was slightly surprised to hear what the Minister had to say about the European Union. It has something called the European Defence Agency, which I debated at some length with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) in the Committee corridor two weeks ago. It has a whole string of things that it is meant to do. It seems to me that persuading member states to adopt a particular line on munitions would be very much in keeping with its extremely wide-ranging role. The Minister might like to have a further look at the EDA to see whether this is an issue that it might like to address. Otherwise, I fear that we will have to come back at a future date and examine exactly what the EDA is there to do.
I understood from the more recent speeches by the hon. Gentleman’s right hon. and hon. Friends that the Conservative party was now in favour of the European Defence Agency. This is not one of the competences that we think the EU should have, but as I have already said, we believe as signatories to the convention that it is part of our obligation to try to ensure that the whole world resiles from the use of cluster munitions, and we will continue to try to achieve that.
In response to the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Milton Keynes, the convention is pretty clear about the definition of a mine as
“a munition designed to be placed… on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by… proximity”,
and therefore not by contact. The method of delivery is not relevant.
I wish to clarify to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that I was slightly wrong in saying that the convention comes into force when the 30th signatory ratifies it; it comes into force on 1 August 2010, as long as the 30th ratification is reached.
We need further clarification of the definition, as what the Minister read out would include land mines and touch on the problems and issues we face in the Falklands. We must be succinct about this; otherwise, it will be very confusing as to what exactly we are talking about.
The definitions are very clear in the convention; I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to read it yet, but when he has, I think he will find that the definition of what we are talking about as a cluster munition is pretty clear. As I have said a couple of times, if he wants to tease these matters out by tabling amendments in Committee, I shall be happy to deal with any points then.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) is right that we need some clarification. I should declare my interest as a qualified bomb disposal officer, so I have a basic understanding of these issues. Not all mines are initiated by proximity; many are initiated by contact. I am afraid that the explanation that the Minister just read out is not quite right.
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has read the convention either. He will note that what we have tried to do, as clearly as possible, is to use the definitions in the convention and transpose them directly into UK legislation. I do not think that the definitions are wrong; they are pretty much universally accepted. If he looks at schedule 1, he will see the clear definitions of cluster munitions and related terms set out there.
Various defences are provided in the Bill, which derive from article 3 of the convention. The first deals with destruction because it is essential that we have the capacity and legal ability to destroy our stockpile. Secondly, there is a defence in respect of training, detection clearance and, again, destruction, which would be necessary for us to remove our stockpile and destroy it. Thirdly, as in article 21 of the convention, there is a defence relating to interoperability, which is very important if we are not to expose our armed forces personnel to unnecessary legal damage.
No, I am not aware of that. If I prove to be wrong, I will write to the hon. Gentleman, but I am pretty certain that that is not the case.
I have a copy of the convention with me. It provides a series of different definitions under article 1 in relation to a self-destruction mechanism or a self-deactivating mechanism, explaining what they mean. The convention also defines cluster munition and explains what a contaminated area means. Paragraph 12 of article 2 defines a “mine” as
“a munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or a vehicle.”
That is the specific definition in the convention.
I would like to get something clear in my mind. Where we have been involved with other countries that might have obtained cluster munitions through our military forces, is there an onus on us to ask them to destroy those cluster munitions? Is there anything in the Bill that could make that happen?
To be honest, I am not quite sure what the answer is to that question. There are obviously circumstances where we have used cluster munitions and we might have used them in co-operation with other military forces in a series of different places. I suppose it is possible for some cluster munitions that still theoretically belong to us to be present in some far-flung territory. I think that that is relatively unlikely, because we have tried to do everything in our power to ensure that there are no free-wheeling British cluster munitions in the world, but in any event the Bill contains a measure relating to transparency and the need for us to publish all the information about our stockpile and the process of destroying it, and I think that that will prove helpful.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving away again. I think that our interventions are helping to tease out some of the issues.
This goes to the heart of what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to prevent future generations from stepping on cluster munitions, mines, or whatever we wish to call them. That is, of course, morally right, but there is a huge question about the legacy—about what has happened in the past, and what we are doing to help countries that contain thousands upon thousands of mines for which we, or our allies, are responsible. What the Bill lacks, in my view, is a provision that takes account of recent history, and requires us to take responsibility and—albeit perhaps in only a small way, and gradually—make up for what we have done in the past.
You seem to be getting a very sore throat this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, given all your coughing during lengthy interventions.
The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point. It is right that we should want to rectify what we, the United Kingdom, have done around the world and, for that matter, what other countries have done around the world, and to abolish that legacy. However, I do not believe that such action need be specified in the Bill, because it does not require legislation.
Many Members have raised with me, and with other Foreign Office Ministers, the use of cluster munitions in Sri Lanka. Last year, through the Department for International Development, we devoted £1 million to helping to clear some of that unexploded artillery. We have done similar work in Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Laos, Lebanon, Mozambique, Somaliland and Sudan. However, change of that kind does not require legislative change. While it is not for us to take on every country in the world, as signatories to the convention we are determined to do all that we can to eradicate this danger, just as we followed our commitment to the abolition of anti-personnel landmines with interventions in many parts of the world.
Do not conflicts tend to be fashionable? When I was in Bosnia, we were involved in a great deal of de-mining activity. As soon as the Kosovo conflict started, many non-governmental organisations and charities that had been working in Bosnia moved to Kosovo. The same happened with Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the funds, and therefore the NGOs, tend to move with the conflict, and all too often the legacy of what happened 15 years earlier is lost once the conflict has moved to another country. That is something that we simply cannot allow to continue.
I agree. In 2003, when I went to Bosnia on the armed forces parliamentary scheme, we saw how much work remained to be done. I believe that Bosnia is one of the most mined places on the planet, but because the conflict has moved on, we are now worrying about other countries and are no longer committed to the work in Bosnia. In fact, two of the more recent British casualties were caused by anti-personnel landmines rather than engagement.
A great deal of de-mining is needed in much of Latin America—large chunks of Colombia, for instance—and in nearly every African country, but we cannot take on all the work in every country in the world. We do have considerable expertise, and we need to develop more expertise with other countries, because one of the problems is that only a relatively limited number of people are able to do this work. We need much more international capacity, capability and will-power.
My hon. Friend rightly drew attention to DFID’s mine clearance work, and I agree with him that we have a honourable record, but is it not one of the tragedies that development aid money must be diverted to mine or cluster munition clearance?
Absolutely. After the first world war, when mustard gas was used although everyone had thought it had been abolished by The Hague conventions, health budgets had to be used to make up for the deficiencies of war. I think that the lessons that we learn in this regard are important for the future. My biggest anxiety is that some countries are still committed to the use of cluster munitions, and to expanding their production in order to sell more of them to other countries which have still not signed the convention. That is why the Bill is so necessary. It is another brick in the wall, a further means of ensuring that we secure our ultimate goal of a cluster munitions-free world. I hope that what we do today will contribute to that.
I am grateful to the Minister, who is being extremely generous in giving way. Some of the non-signatories to whom he referred are partners in NATO and the European security and defence policy. Increasingly, commands are joint, so how will the Bill affect British officers who find themselves commanding forces from countries that are non-signatories? Will it not render their actions ultra vires?
The interoperability rules in both the convention and the Bill deal with precisely those circumstances, although the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that people need legal certainty, whether they are commanding officers or under the command of others. Clearly a member of the British armed forces who was on a single platform in an operation, and was in command, would not be able to call in the use of a cluster munition. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is fully covered by clause 9, and is also adumbrated in the convention.
I suppose it is a fine point, but it is one that could arise in practice. I do not suggest for a moment that a British officer would call in the use of cluster munitions that might be available because of the forces under his command, but they might nevertheless be used at a sub-unit level. Would the officer have any responsibility in that event, or would he be absolved of responsibility?
Whenever we build an international coalition—and the fact is that virtually every time British troops are engaged in warfare nowadays, they are engaged in an international coalition; I cannot think of a circumstance in which that would not be the case—we must ensure that there are proper national caveats, a clear demarcation of responsibility, and an acceptance of the different caveats that apply.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving us so much of his time. He mentioned clause 9 in response to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), who suggested that a British officer might be compromised by engagement with others in what the clause defines as an “international military operation”. The officer would, in fact, be exonerated if the armed forces of an ally were engaged with cluster munitions, but that would not solve or prevent the problem.
The point is that the convention on cluster munitions allows a defence in relation to interoperability. That is laid out clearly in the convention, and we have mirrored it in the Bill. How this works in operation, however, will be a matter for the Chief of the Defence Staff, who has already written to make clear the precise situation in respect of the armed forces. One of the things that we have of necessity learned over the past 10 years is that it is important to ensure that there is no legal peril for our armed forces. Moreover, if we can achieve a situation in which all our allies are operating without cluster munitions, we will be in a better world.
Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s remark, but I should also remind all Members that the clock is ticking, and Back Benchers are keen to take part in the debate.
I have not personally been involved in any discussions with NATO on this, but I think the hon. Gentleman is pointing in the wrong direction as to where an agreement is needed. The first step is to try to secure universal acceptance of the convention. That would mean there is no peril for anybody; there would be no moral peril as well as no legal peril from being indirectly involved, through other personnel, in the use of cluster munitions. That is why it is important that while there are still signatories and non-signatories, article 21 of the convention should make it clear that, notwithstanding article 1 on the list of prohibitions, personnel of a signatory country could engage in military co-operation and operations with personnel from non-signatory countries. Otherwise, I think there would have been legal peril.
The Minister mentions moral peril. Will he explain to the House why the 36 people who are clearing the minefields in the Falklands are from Zimbabwe, as I know that his Government would very much like to have those African people working in Africa?
I think that that falls somewhat outside the context of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a fuller contribution during the debate, I will have an opportunity, with the permission of the House, to respond to his question in terms when I reply to the debate. However, I am, of course, always happy to take as many interventions as necessary to fulfil the needs of the House.
Let me make a few final points. First, we are in the process of destroying our stockpile. We had 38 million cluster munitions; we have destroyed 14 million and we intend to move as swiftly as possible so that we can destroy the remainder of our stockpile. As I have said, because of the review in which the United States has engaged, it is already committed to withdrawing all of its stockpile in the UK by 2013.
Members have referred to European Union states and NATO states that have not signed the convention. Eight NATO states have not signed, including Turkey and the USA. The major users and producers that have not yet signed include Brazil, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the USA, and we will continue our diplomatic efforts both through defence attachés and our embassies in those countries to try to ensure that we move to universal ratification. Two countries that are heavily affected have not yet ratified, which seems odd: Vietnam and Cambodia. Perhaps closer to home, in a sense, 26 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries have yet to sign. That is a long list of countries, and I am sure Members would not want me to trouble them by reading it out in full, but I am more than happy to provide the list to anyone who wishes to see it.
I hope we will be able to move forward with this legislation in unanimity. It will be interesting to hear the debate this afternoon, as it will be very different from the debate we would have had five years ago, when more Members would have argued that we should be able to retain the use of cluster munitions for the protection of our military personnel. I am very grateful to the Ministry of Defence for moving forward so swiftly in changing the way in which it operates. I also hope that by putting these measures on the statute book and encouraging other countries to move forward to ratification, we will ensure that we have a fairer and more peaceful world.
We welcome the Bill, and it will have our support as it passes through the House. The Minister alluded to the hideous injuries that have been inflicted on large numbers of civilians in different parts of the world—usually in some of the poorest countries—by the use of cluster bombs. As the Minister knows, the problem arises from the fact that although these weapons are designed to explode on contact with an enemy vehicle or some other hard structure, there is a high rate of failure. The unexploded submunition lies on the ground and can then be triggered off when a person picks it up or comes into contact with it.
I take on board the Minister’s comment that the MOD has been reflecting on its long-held previous position on their use and has now come to a different view. I hope he will understand, however, why I should like him to use some of his concluding remarks to offer a bit more information on the outcome of the Government’s analysis that has now led them to take a different view on the military utility of cluster munitions from that they and previous Governments held when the issue has been previously debated. I am aware, for example, that distinguished retired military officers have said in speeches to the House of Lords that, having reflected very carefully on the issue, they are now convinced that these munitions are of little practical use to British forces as they go about their work on behalf of the country.
The Minister makes a fair point, but let me explain what I hope to hear more of when he winds up the debate. I want him to flesh out in a little more detail than we have hitherto heard how the Government have come to make their analysis on disproportionality and have reached the conclusion that the balance of the scales now lies very definitely in favour of an outright ban. While expressing a shared concern with the British Government about the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, the United States has already publicly stated the following in a 2008 State Department statement of American policy:
“Cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility. Their elimination from US stockpiles would put the lives of its soldiers and those of its coalition partners at risk. Moreover, cluster munitions can often result in much less collateral damage than unitary weapons, such as a larger bomb or larger artillery shell would cause, if used for the same mission.”
It is important that the Government spell out with great clarity why they have come to a different conclusion from that reached by the Government of the United States in respect of the safety of their armed forces. As the Minister indicated by saying that the original stock held in this country was some 38 million cluster munitions, these weapons have been part of the armoury of the British armed forces for many years. Do the Government believe that a ban would in any way seriously impair the effectiveness of our armed forces, and will this ban—with all the humanitarian gains that it undoubtedly will bring—at the same time add to the risks posed to our soldiers as they carry out the orders given to them by the Government of the day?
My understanding is that the original purpose of cluster munitions was to provide the means for an effective counter-attack against a large mass of enemy vehicles. I can see why, in military terms, this made some sense in the context of cold war planning against a possible attack on western Europe from the Warsaw pact. Cluster munitions were available to us in more recent years and we chose not to use them—for example, during Operation Telic in Iraq. However, when my noble Friend Lord Attlee, who served as a reservist in Iraq, spoke on this matter in the House of Lords, he pointed out that we did not need to deploy cluster munitions there because we enjoyed absolute air superiority. I therefore seek some assurance from the Minister regarding what would happen if British troops were asked on some future occasion to deploy in comparable circumstances, in which they might have to face a conflict with an enemy controlling large numbers of vehicles and might not have the air supremacy we enjoyed in Iraq. Is an alternative weapons system available or being developed that would give the Army the tools they would need in such circumstances, or do the Government conclude that the risk of that happening is simply too small for such planning to be necessary?
I turn briefly to financing, which the Minister commented on but not in much detail. He pointed out that the Government are taking action to comply with the convention by outlawing the direct financing of cluster munitions. Some signatory countries, although not all, are going further and introducing legislation to prohibit indirect financing, as well. My understanding from the background briefing is that one of the prime reasons why the Government have chosen not to go down that route is simply the complexity of trade and of financial instruments these days. Such complexity would make it very difficult not just for regulatory authorities but for companies themselves to be certain whether or not they are in some way involved in an industrial process that, at the end of the day, is concerned with the manufacture or supply of cluster munitions. However, I note that Switzerland, for example, which has a very sophisticated financial services sector, has decided to legislate on indirect financing. Can the Minister spell out in a bit more detail why this Government take a different view?
A number of my hon. Friends referred in interventions to interoperability and the position of British troops engaged in joint operations with allied countries that have not subscribed to the cluster munitions convention. Does the Bill provide sufficient protection for members of the British forces and for civilians, including contractors’ staff, working under military discipline who are deployed on such joint operations? The Minister is right to say that a statutory defence is written into clause 9, but I hope he can assure the House that this has been thoroughly discussed with our senior military commanders, and that he can say in terms that the chiefs of staff are content that the clause provides all the necessary protection.
On stockpiles, the convention imposes an eight-year deadline for a state party to dispose of all stocks of cluster munitions, but the Bill makes no explicit provision for this. We have the Government’s undertaking to the House, but there is nothing in the Bill. There is no clause to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to meet that eight-year deadline. Why not? The convention also, as I read it, requires state parties to destroy all stockpiles that lie within their jurisdiction. Do the Government interpret that duty as excluding or including stockpiles held on British soil by allied—in this case, we are pretty much talking about United States—armed forces? The Government say they have had an assurance from Washington that any stocks held on bases here will be withdrawn by 2013, I think the Minister said.
That was a measure of reassurance, but clarity on the legal point would also be helpful.
My last point on stockpiles concerns clause 8, which provides a statutory defence for members of visiting forces who possess cluster munitions or move them in or out of the United Kingdom. However, as the Government’s explanatory notes point out, no such defence is offered to a British citizen who assisted with the movement of cluster munitions out of the UK. Perhaps this point needs to be explored further in Committee, but does that in any way put at risk, for example, a civilian contractor working at a foreign military base? Given the litigious age we live in now, could this conceivably be extended to bring air traffic controllers within the remit of a potential criminal offence? We need to be satisfied on how the detail of the Bill will apply when we are talking about criminal offences and penalties.
I have three further points to make about particular clauses. On clause 2, which defines the scope of the criminal offences, my understanding is that such actions taken within the United Kingdom will be offences whoever is responsible for committing them, unless that person is covered by a statutory defence, but that things done outside the territory of the United Kingdom are offences only if they are carried out by British citizens or British companies. To my mind, on my reading of the Bill, that leaves open the question of foreign nationals living either temporarily or permanently in the United Kingdom, Commonwealth citizens in that position, and, for example, people living in Northern Ireland who are entitled to declare themselves as Irish, rather than British, citizens. It is not clear from the explanatory notes why this distinction has been made between a liability for offences committed within the UK, and a different liability for offences committed outside British soil. That strikes me as somewhat odd.
Clause 33(3) refers to the possibility of the Government extending the Bill’s provisions to British overseas territories. Is that in fact the Government’s intention, and if so, how quickly do they intend to act? Do Ministers foresee any problem arising in respect of overseas territories where a large part of the land might be made available to an allied power for use by their military facilities? Ascension Island and Diego Garcia are two obvious examples.
Finally, I note that clause 29 would give the Government an enabling power to modify not only this Bill once it is enacted, but any measure passed by one of the devolved Parliaments or Assemblies in order to take account of future changes to the convention that might take place. I could swallow that if we were talking about minor drafting changes to a convention—the sort of thing that in terms of domestic legislation might be represented by a consolidation Bill. I accept that if this convention is to be modified in the future, a huge amount of international negotiation will be required and a widespread international consensus will have to be reached before such amendments can be agreed. None the less, it is an important principle that Governments should not take for themselves excessive powers through primary legislation to modify other primary legislation simply by Orders in Council. Unless the Government provide a good justification for that, we may wish to return to it during later stages of the Bill’s consideration.
Having made those detailed points, I wish to conclude by repeating the Opposition’s support for the Bill and for the humanitarian objectives that lie behind it. We wish it well, and we will seek to debate it with a view to improving it further as it proceeds through the House.
It gives me great pleasure to contribute to this debate on an important piece of legislation that enables us to play our part in delivering on the 2008 convention on cluster munitions and, as the United Nations Secretary-General has said, helps to demonstrate
“the world’s collective revulsion at the impact of these terrible weapons”.
That has already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Minister.
I have been very concerned for a number of years about the deaths of and injuries to innocent civilians during and after conflicts where cluster munitions have been used. I have tabled a number of parliamentary questions and early-day motions on the issue, and I became the Member in charge of Lord Dubs’ Bill on this subject when it reached this place. The Government are to be congratulated on the leading role that they have played, especially in the final conference in the Oslo process, which was held in Dublin in May 2008. I agree with the Minister that the Prime Minister’s personal efforts at that time have been acknowledged by all close observers of that process, but it was not always thus. The Minister said that if we had been having this debate some five years ago, it would have been a very different debate, but I should tell him that that would have been the case three years ago—I know that because I secured an Adjournment debate in this Chamber on 23 November 2006.
In that debate, I made the case for our Government to renounce the use of cluster munitions, destroy the stockpiles and take a lead in the international community in seeking a global ban—that is, in effect, what this Bill will help to achieve. I did so because of the danger to civilians that such weaponry presents. That danger first occurs at the time of attack when the weaponry is used in residential areas; the bomblets from the main bomb carpet-bomb an area about the size of three football pitches, tearing to bits everybody in that area, military or civilian. We know that the UK only ever used these weapons against military targets, but we also know that sometimes they have been used in densely populated residential areas, with the inevitable loss of life and injury to innocent children, women and men. Some other countries have used cluster munitions without discrimination and without concern for the humanitarian consequences.
As the Minister and others have said, the initial impact is not the worst aspect of cluster bomb use. Many of the bomblets do not work properly, they fail to explode on immediate impact and are left on the ground after hostilities have ended, to be trodden on by farmers returning to their fields, to be pulled up when families are clearing away rubble from their damaged houses, or even to be picked up as possible playthings by children, who are attracted by their shape and shine. Cluster munitions remain lethal.
I was supported in that Adjournment debate by my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), but in response the then Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), did not adopt the same positive and humanitarian approach in 2006 as my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe has done in opening today’s debate.
Indeed, the line that the then Minister of State came up with closely reflected what the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) says is the current American position. The then Minister of State described the UK’s cluster munitions as
“lawful weapons that provide a unique capability against certain types of legitimate military target.”
He went on to say:
“Our military commanders judge the degree of force to employ to achieve the mission, subject always to strict compliance with international humanitarian law.
We believe that that is a sufficiently adequate body of law. It puts considerable constraints on the use of cluster munitions.”
To be fair, by the time of that debate Government policy had moved on from its previous blanket defence of the use of all cluster munitions in our arsenal to a differentiation between dumb cluster munitions and smart cluster munitions. The former would be phased out because they had no self-destruct mechanism if they failed to explode on impact or had no target-discriminatory capability. It was argued that the smart munitions had those things and, thus, did not present the same level of danger to civilians. The then Minister of State said that
“a total ban on the use of all types of submunition would have an adverse impact on the UK’s operational effectiveness.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2006; Vol. 453, c. 802.]
How things have moved on in less than three years. I congratulate Ministers on being prepared to reconsider their position in the light of evidence.
It was not just the view on cluster weapons themselves that changed over the following few months; the UK position on what was the best way of dealing with the humanitarian debate about the future of cluster munitions also altered. By the time of my debate, Norway had said that it intended to lead an initiative outside the UN review arrangement for conventional weapons. Canada had taken the same approach in securing the land mine treaty 10 years before, using the so-called Ottawa process. In my Adjournment debate, I had urged the Government to join actively in the new Oslo process. The then Minister said that the UN review conference was the approach most likely to achieve “real humanitarian benefits”. Thankfully, that view was changed within weeks or months of that debate, and the UK became increasingly engaged in the Oslo process and came to play an increasingly important and beneficial role in it.
As interested observers noted at the time, the change of heart seemed to come out of a robust debate within Government, with the Department for International Development championing a ban, the Ministry of Defence wanting to hang on to so-called smart munitions and the Foreign Office eventually coming down on the side of radical action. When the Minister winds up, he might like to enlighten the House on exactly what happened in those robust discussions.
I suspected as much.
What I believe happened was that the Government came to realise two things. The first was that the failure rate of so-called smart munitions was still very poor, leaving war zones littered with the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of small land mines. In an answer to a written question after my debate, I was advised that the failure rate was 6.5 per cent. even for those cluster munitions. Given that each cluster bomb carries about 145 submunitions, we are talking about nine or 10 of those bomblets remaining lethal. The numbers in which cluster munitions are used mean that we are talking about hundreds of thousands of deadly pieces of ordnance.
That clarity of vision and willingness to act is cause for celebration, as is the recognition that there was a head of steam in the Oslo process that could deliver an international agreement that would constitute a major advance on the global disarmament agenda. The speed of progress on this issue across the world since the start of the Oslo process has been remarkable. As the Minister has said, the convention will come into force on 1 August because on 16 February it reached the 30 ratifications needed as a trigger, and that is another cause for celebration.
When we rightly pay tribute to those who have helped to achieve the rapid advances of the past couple of years, we must recognise that the case against cluster munitions is far from a new one. As the Minister said, cluster bombs have been around since the second world war, but they raised serious concerns when they were used extensively by the US during the Vietnam war; villages were carpet-bombed with cluster munitions, some of which were designed deliberately not to explode on impact, so that they created land mine zones on the cheap.
Revulsion at the consequences of the use of such weaponry led in the early 1970s to calls for an international ban. In 1974, Algeria, Austria, Egypt, Lebanon—that seems painfully ironic when one recalls its people’s recent experience of cluster munitions—Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Norway, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Venezuela and Yugoslavia jointly put forward a document that included a section headed “Anti-personnel fragmentation weapons”. It said:
“Anti personnel cluster warheads or other devices with many bomblets, which act through ejection of a greater number of small-calibred fragments or pellets to be prohibited for use.”
Sadly, it has taken another 30-odd years even to begin to turn that humane call into reality. Thankfully, that is what we are helping to do today.
Over those 36 years, the evidence has accumulated about what devastation cluster munitions have wreaked on the lives of innocent families and communities. Now 22 countries have been affected by cluster munition contamination with particular problems of unexploded ordnance in Indochina, Afghanistan, Iraq and, of course, Lebanon.
The charity Handicap International produced a report documenting more than 10,000 known civilian casualties from cluster munitions, but the charity believes that the true figure is more likely to be 10 times that. Most of the world has woken up to that, and the rest, I believe, will wake up to it. We owe a huge debt of gratitude for that fact to the work of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, which works on the international stage and in the UK through its lead partner, Landmine Action—now to be called Action on Armed Violence. They have done a fantastic job in mobilising civil society to push forward the cause both here and across the globe.
It is great that the Bill went through the House of Lords with massive cross-party support and I warmly welcome what the Opposition spokesman has said this afternoon. Now we need it to complete its legislative passage within the next few days, to allow our country to ratify the convention as soon as possible so that we can participate as a full player at the first meeting of state parties in November.
There are a few points that my hon. Friend the Minister might like to clarify when he winds up. He has told us that our stockpiles are being destroyed, and that is very welcome, and the Government have also made it clear that foreign stockpiles of cluster munitions will be removed from the UK and its territories by 2013. Has that process started and is it the Government’s intention that it should be irreversible?
Will my hon. Friend tell us a little more about what the Government are doing to promote universal adherence to the convention as per article 21? He has mentioned trying to persuade the European Union, he has mentioned our NATO partners and he has mentioned our Commonwealth partners, but what are the British Government doing to get those who have not signed up to do so as quickly as possible? Are the Government going to initiate targeted military-to-military dialogue with states that are not party to the convention?
This vital Bill is necessary to help make an historically significant convention work. This really is a major step forward for the international law on weapons treaties. It covers both functioning and malfunctioning cluster munitions and gives a clear, straightforward definition of the weapons that we are talking about. It strengthens and expands victim assistance obligations, attributes special responsibilities for the clearance of explosive remnants of war to state parties and includes a requirement to promote support for the treaty.
Notwithstanding the list that my hon. Friend the Minister gave us in his opening remarks, going back to the St. Petersberg declaration, renunciation of the right to use certain types of weaponry is still exceptional. Every time we make a decision to do so, it is an advance for civilisation.
I begin by saying that my party, as it was in the other place, is very supportive of the Bill and will support its Second Reading today. I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned for the convention on cluster munitions and for the Bill to ratify it, in particular, as has been mentioned, the Cluster Munition Coalition and Landmine Action. I also pay tribute to the work that my noble Friend Lord Garden, who sadly is no longer with us, did on this issue. If he were here today, he would be very pleased to see the progress that the Bill is making.
As we have heard, of people killed by cluster munitions, the vast majority are civilians—the various briefings that I have read give estimates of anything between 85 and 98 per cent. That figure alone makes it entirely unjustifiable to use such weapons on a war footing. The killing of civilians is always a tragedy and the record of cluster bombs in doing that means that they are just wrong—they should not be part of a responsible, civilised country’s arsenal. We cannot justify weapons that end up killing civilians in such huge numbers.
Apart from the moral argument, there is the argument about counter-productivity. Increasingly in the aftermath of the conflicts in which we have been involved, securing support from the local population has been a vital part of our operations. Our experience in recent years in both Iraq and Afghanistan has proved—if proof were needed—that the civilian deaths make it much more difficult to undertake that process of winning hearts and minds. When a country is trying to rebuild its agricultural production and economic development, the litter of cluster bombs makes it difficult to undertake basic food production, and rebuilding the infrastructure is far too much of a challenge. To be frank, it is a challenge that such countries can do without.
There is also a strong argument that cluster munitions, as well as being dangerous to civilians, are not militarily effective. I understand that 78,000 were used in Kosovo, but they destroyed only 30 major items of military equipment, so they do not exactly have a successful military record, either.
Of course, there is also the human cost of what these munitions do. I recently had the opportunity to visit Chechnya as part of a delegation with the estimable Lord Judd and the all-party group on human rights. Although that was a fascinating and perhaps somewhat depressing visit in terms of human rights, one of the high points was going to speak to the children in local schools and seeing how they are trying to rebuild the future of that country. Having said that, seeing with one’s own eyes children who are amputees—who have lost limbs—as a result of the cluster munitions that were heavily used by Russia in the conflict in the 1990s brings home what a travesty they are and what a lasting impact they have. As has been said, this is not just about the killing that is done but about the maiming and the loss of limbs, which obviously have an impact throughout a person’s life. That is particularly difficult to think about when children are involved.
The Minister talked about the just way of waging war. How one can have a just war is a moral dilemma we often discuss, but we have now concluded that certain types of munition and arsenal are not just and that they should not be used. Excellent progress has been made on land mines and their use internationally, which is now much reduced. I hope that that success will be repeated in the case of cluster munitions.
We have heard other appalling weapons mentioned today, in particular the white phosphorus that has been used by the US, particularly in Falluja in Iraq—
The hon. Gentleman corrects me—the US was seen to use it in Falluja, but Israel has also been using it in recent conflicts. We have seen in recent weeks the BBC reports about the horrendous impact in terms of birth defects that is being felt years later. The rate of birth defects in Falluja is 13 times that in Europe. The legacy of the weapons used in a conflict and their impact years later are important. Our responsibility for these weapons, which we have used in the past, was raised earlier in the debate. It is right that we take our share of responsibility for clearing up the mess that we left behind.
I welcome the Bill, although I regret that it has taken us so long to get to this stage. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) outlined the timeline of the struggle to take us to this point. The global movement for a ban on cluster munitions started in the late 1990s. The Oslo declaration of February 2007 launched the diplomatic process that led to the cluster munitions convention’s being adopted in May 2008. In December, the Government introduced the Bill. Back in 2006, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) introduced a private Member’s Bill on the issue, but unfortunately the Government did not support it. As has been mentioned, Lords Dubs and Elton also introduce a private Member’s Bill in the other place in 2006. Again, the Government did not support it.
Sadly, it has not been easy to get the Government on side. In the past, the Government have argued that there is a difference between smart and dumb cluster munitions and that they should be allowed to keep the smart ones. I remember sitting here in Question Time listening to Ministers defend smart cluster munitions. They argued that smart cluster munitions had a high success rate—but even those killed civilians indiscriminately. I am glad that the Government have finally, belatedly, accepted that the right thing to do is to ban all of them.
I am sure that all Members hope that the Bill will be passed without undue delay, because this November we have the first meeting of the states parties to the convention, and ratification will give us greater influence in encouraging other states to do so. I am pleased to hear of the progress that has already been made on destroying the UK’s stockpiles of cluster munitions, with 30 million already having been destroyed. However, I have a few questions about the Bill to which I hope the Minister will respond when he sums up the debate.
First, on the stockpiling of cluster munitions on UK territory, as per article 3 of the convention, the Minister has said today that all cluster munitions will be removed from UK territory by 2013. However, Lord Malloch-Brown used slightly different wording in the past, which was repeated by Baroness Kinnock in December, when she said that, eight years after ratification,
“there would be no permanent stockpiles of cluster munitions on UK territory”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 December 2009; Vol. 715, c. 995.]
As has already been noted, that is not in the Bill, and I am interested to know why. I want to challenge the Minister on whether the expectation that stockpiles will have been removed after eight years represents a firm commitment. I should also like to know about the use of the word “permanent”. I understand that the Bill prohibits the transfer of cluster munitions, so we would not expect there to be any non-permanent stockpiles either.
We also have to consider Diego Garcia, which has already been mentioned. The wording that Baroness Kinnock used regarding stockpiling on UK territory was that
“States Parties are required to destroy all stockpiles of cluster munitions under their ‘jurisdiction and control’.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 December 2009; Vol. 715, c. 1020.]
She also said that US stockpiles on UK territory are under UK jurisdiction, but not control. I am keen to know from the Minister whether the “and” in “jurisdiction and control” means “and/or” or simply “and”. The US is ultimately responsible for those stockpiles, but does not the UK also have responsibility for ensuring that they are not stored on our territory? Furthermore, we have to make the point that the US Department of Defence has not always been entirely forthcoming in divulging details of its activities on that island. How do the Government plan to ensure that the US will comply with the law, in order to ensure that we meet our international obligations?
On Second Reading in the House of Lords, Baroness Kinnock said that she would speak to her colleagues in the Government about possible verification procedures. That is important if we are to have confidence that we are not simply putting a bit of legislation on the statute book, but passing a Bill that will be meaningful and will lead to the destruction of stockpiles. Verification is very important in that regard.
Clause 9 relates to article 21 of the convention, on interoperability, which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) mentioned. The clause will allow UK armed forces to participate in military actions in coalitions alongside states that are not party to the convention. As we have heard, those states include the US, Russia, Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and Israel. Clearly, it is important to protect members of UK’s armed forces in cases where they inevitably have to work with states that, unfortunately, still choose to deploy cluster munitions.
On Second Reading in another place, Baroness Kinnock said that she could
“reassure the House that, in compliance with the convention, no UK national will request the use of cluster munitions when the decision to do so is within their exclusive control.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 December 2009; Vol. 715, c. 994.]
I understand that guidelines will be drawn up for our armed forces to set out clearly how that is to be understood and operationalised, but will the Minister provide further clarification? Obviously, we do not want our service personnel to be in a difficult legal position when they are in the heat of battle, but neither do we want a situation in which the British armed forces can do everything but pull the trigger, so to speak, when cluster munitions are used in joint operations. I hope that the Minister will assure the House today that all coalition partners will be urged, at the strategic planning stage, not to put UK nationals in the position of having to request the use of cluster munitions, even when the decision to do so is not within their exclusive control.
On ratification by other states, I understand that in December the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote to all Commonwealth Foreign Ministers to urge them to sign the convention. It would be helpful to have an update on what responses have been received so far.
On indirect financing, I understand that the convention does not mention financing, but that the Government are taking measures to prevent the financing of the development and production of cluster munitions, and I welcome the Bill’s provisions to prohibit such direct financing. The Government have also announced measures to prevent indirect financing, as was outlined in the statement of 7 December 2009. I welcome the commitment to pursue that approach, albeit not through the Bill but through a voluntary code of practice for business. Clearly, this is a complex issue and thorough consultation is needed to find the best way of preventing such indirect financing. I am pleased that the Government have said that they would not rule out introducing legislation to enforce a voluntary agreement if that were deemed necessary. The Liberal Democrats would certainly be prepared to consider further legislation, and I hope that if that were deemed necessary it would also have cross-party support.
The Bill is a good one, doing something wholly positive that will help not only to save lives abroad, but to prevent horrendous maimings. The impact will come partly from the fact that the UK will not use cluster munitions and partly from the important role that we can play globally in encouraging other states to change, too. The Minister has mentioned that seven EU member states and 26 Commonwealth countries have not ratified the convention. I hope that our influence will be used to reduce those numbers and to get more states signing up to and ratifying it. Of course, it is also regrettable that key countries such as the United States have not yet agreed to the convention. It is unfortunate that, despite our special relationship, we have not been able to convince the US to act with responsibility as a major military power in the world.
I shall support the Bill’s Second Reading. I hope very much that we can pass the Bill before the general election, and that, given the cross-party support for it, the UK will, whatever the outcome of the election, play a leading role internationally in getting rid of these vile and indiscriminate weapons for good.
I strongly support the Bill, and I hope that the House will not need to divide on it, but I intend to be in my place at the end of the debate to say aye. I feel very passionately about this issue, which has engaged me since I was a child, as I shall explain.
On 10 July 1998, I stood at the Dispatch Box as a defence spokesman for the Opposition to throw our weight behind the Bill that became the Landmines Act 1998. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who was then the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, and I welcomed the signing of the Oslo treaty and pointed out that it was weakened by the absence of signatories from the major land mine manufacturers such as China, Russia and Pakistan. We recognised that mines had a military purpose and that we had to encourage the development of alternatives, but we thought we could achieve the objective without the appalling risk to civilians. I pointed out that we were used to seeing on our television screens the devastating effect of the horrors of war in far-off lands. We had recently seen the amazing pictures of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Angola that gave such huge global momentum to the cause of the International Committee of the Red Cross. I welcomed the Government’s resourcing of mine clearance operations either directly or through agencies such as the HALO Trust, which had become familiar to my family because a distinguished nephew of mine, after serving in the Gulf war in the Coldstream Guards, had worked for the trust de-mining in Afghanistan and Angola. Indeed, he prepared the “minefield” in which Diana, Princess of Wales, was seen by the world.
I am very realistic about this issue. Representing a military constituency such as Salisbury, I understand why our servicemen and women continue to feel that there is a need for all sorts of horrendous battlefield weapons, whether for battlefield protection or for a more aggressive purpose. However, they are the same people who are so motivated and brave when they put their lives at risk in de-mining operations both during their service and after they have retired. I immediately salute my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), who has risked his life on numerous occasions, particularly in Bosnia, for the protection of others, and especially of children.
By introducing this Bill we are giving our armed forces a problem. I listen with attention to my constituents in all military services, because opinion is divided in military circles about whether cluster munitions—or, indeed, land mines before them—should be banned in the way proposed. When the then Secretary of State introduced the Second Reading of the Landmines Bill on 10 July 1998, he pointed out that it was not the end of the matter, and that that day was the beginning of a new era. How right he was: this Bill is a natural consequence of the Landmines Bill. We made a start then, and we are taking a further step today, but we should never forget that there are other issues. I suggest that this House will return to them in the not too distant future, long after I have shuffled off the Westminster stage at the next election. We will have to face up to matters such as white phosphorous, depleted uranium and other particularly aggressive forms of munitions.
War represents the failure of politics and diplomacy. If we go back to the days of Plato, we find that he addressed the philosophical basis of war in “The Republic”. If I may summarise, he said that the point of war was to secure a better peace. That is exactly what this Bill is all about, so many hundreds of years later. Schedule 1 deals with definitions, and a number of hon. Members have mentioned how difficult it is to define exactly what we mean. Was a multiple rocket launcher used? If not, what other kind of delivery was used? Did the munition fall from the air, or was it on the ground? Where did it fall, and how? Those are important questions, and we shall have to look at them in Committee. For example, we will have to discover the extent of this seamless robe, because in the end we are talking about the impact on human beings, particularly civilians. Does a cluster munition become, by definition, a mine when it has been lying on the ground for some time and is triggered by a child stepping on it or playing with it in some form or another? Or does it not become so defined? These are issues that we will leave for Committee.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) referred to the question of far-off lands, saying that if mines exploded around our shores or in our country there would be immediate public outrage and very swift action indeed. Well, I can tell the House that that has happened in our land. I was there, and I want to pass on, for those who will be here long after I have gone, what happens in those circumstances.
On Friday 13 May 1955, when I was 10 years old, I was on Swanage beach in Dorset with some 20 other children of about the same age. We were doing what children on a beach on a Friday afternoon in May do—building sandcastles, digging holes in the sand, making dams and so on. I was building my castle with a chap called Richard Dunstan: five of my friends were digging holes, and then one of them found a tin. He thought that it was Spam, or something really exotic—yes, Spam was exotic in 1955. He was wrestling to move it, because it was lodged between two rocks. He got out a shoehorn but could not break the tin open. The boys stood back, and were seen throwing things at it.
My friend and I got bored. We turned round. We had our backs to our friends, and were about the same distance from them as I am from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when there was a huge explosion. We were blown into the sea, and lived. Five of my friends died. Five British children were blown up by a British mine on a British beach, within my living memory, and the living memory of many other people. It was an extraordinary thing. It happened in the middle of the 1955 general election. The front page of the following day’s edition of The Daily Telegraph carried a story with the headline, “4 Boys Die, One Missing in Explosion”. Below that, smaller headlines stated, “Big Crater Torn in Beach” and “Wartime Mine Theory”.
There was not much theory involved for the five who were killed, or for the two of us who were the luckiest people alive. I still think that I am the luckiest person alive in this House. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes has deliberately put himself in harm’s way, and I salute him for it, but I was there as a child and got tangled up in what happened by mistake. So what was the response in Britain when a mine exploded around our shores? Many years later, I was a Minister in the Department of National Heritage, and the Imperial War Museum was one of my responsibilities. One day, I asked the staff there whether they had any records of something happening on Swanage beach on 13 May 1955. A couple of weeks later, a large box arrived, full of all the documentation relating to that horrible event.
I have here in my hand copies of the Dorset police documents entitled “Report to Coroner Concerning Death”. They detail how, on 13 May at about 4.20 pm, four boys were reported dead. I also have a copy of the report from the police constable who found them, but the strange thing is that the fifth boy was never found. Within a day or two, a plimsoll that he had been wearing was found. Another was found a few days later. That meant that the then Home Secretary had to issue a document giving authority to the coroner to investigate the matter. The coroner simply declared that there was no conclusion to reach other than that the fifth boy had been a victim of the same mine explosion.
In the inquest, the coroner called for evidence from the officer responsible for de-mining the beach, who had issued a class IIA certificate in January 1950. The officer said:
“I am convinced that this mine had been in the sea and from evidence of marine growth I consider the mine had been washed ashore.
What the boys were seen to have been doing was quite sufficient to have exploded the mine…As an expert I would have allowed boys to walk across the beach.”
I have read the mine clearance officer’s reports, and have with me a copy of the plan of the mines that were laid on Swanage beach in 1940. A clearance operation was undertaken in 1945, which was repeated in 1947 and again 1949. Eventually, a clearance certificate was issued on 17 February 1950. The documents reveal that 117 mines had been laid, of which five were lifted in clearance. They also show that, although there was some evidence of the existence of 54 others, the remaining 58 are still unaccounted for. That was what I found so horrendous when I discovered all this as a Minister of the Crown so many years later.
The coroner concluded his remarkable summing up—in those days, of course, everything was handwritten, and I have a copy of his notes—by saying:
“I think the bomb was in all probability washed ashore.
I do not think any blame can be attached to any living persons in this matter. The boys were all playing among the rocks in a perfectly normal way so far as”
the master in charge
“could see and I do not consider he has any reason to reproach himself, and after the explosion he could not have done more nor acted more resolutely than he did.”
I certainly concur with that. He was my favourite master. He was my French master, and a remarkable and good man. I think that he must have been through hell ever since.
One can imagine how horrified the staff at the school were by what had happened. They, too, were remarkable in the way in which they handled the incident, the enormity of which was overwhelming. The headmaster, John Strange, who was a wonderful man, managed to hold the whole community together. The retired headmaster, the Rev. Chadwick, also played his part. The master who had been at the heart of the incident and who had been taking his charges on the beach was wonderful. The school could not have done more to look after the children, but the fact remained that the mine clearances had not been completed satisfactorily. The mine clearance officers had, in fact, refused a certificate of clearance on one occasion, but had been overruled.
In the final certificate of removal of dangerous military defence works, the officer concerned—who, ironically, was operating out of Southern Command in Salisbury in my constituency—stated:
“The whole area has been swept with a detector and those portions of the area which have been subject to disturbances have been explored thoroughly to the apparent depth of that disturbance”.
Bulldozers were brought in, and the beach was removed down to the rock and put back again. The officer continued:
“Though no guarantee can be given the area may be considered safe except for the possibility of mines being washed up from other fields”,
and that is what happened.
This is a horrendous story, and I repeat it to the House to point out that on the issue of mine clearance, whether it is cluster bombs, cluster munitions or mines of any kind, the impact is the same on a child of 10 at play, whether in Beirut or in Swanage. Personally, I would like to see the mystery of the missing mines of Swanage bay cleared up. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), who also knows more about military matters than most of us, and who has first-hand experience in his military service, might be interested.
After the event, the coastguard swept the whole coast from St. Aldhelm’s head right round past Poole harbour all the way to the Isle of Wight for any traces of that missing body. None were found. More significant now is the fact that we have the technology to detect those mines. I would like to see minehunters of the Sandown class or equivalent brought in, perhaps in training, to sweep Swanage beach and the coast right round Bournemouth. We have the evidence in the 1950 statements of the officer who did the clearance and also from the 1955 inquest that the bomb which killed those children had probably been swept inshore by a gale. There is an opportunity for the Ministry of Defence, in the course of training our Royal Navy operatives, to have another go. That would be an opportunity worth taking.
I support the Bill—of course I do, after what I have been through in my life. I still think I am the luckiest Member to be alive. It motivated me in my politics, and it motivated me to be interested in defence once I came to the House. I have done that for 27 years. I hope the lessons of Swanage beach will not be forgotten. I hope the Bill will be but one step on the road to realising that although war may have to be fought, we should always strive to do it honourably, morally, with integrity, and always and everywhere with the minimum impact on a civilian population that has not put itself in harm’s way. That is my wish, and that is why I support the Bill.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) for that remarkable speech. I am sure no one will forget what he said about Friday 13 May 1955.
I welcome the international moves against land mines and cluster bombs. The first time I came across a cluster bomb was in the early 1980s in Afghanistan. There were a number of little green things with a wing on the side and a bit of metal protruding from them. Back in Pakistan, I saw the effect of those at a children’s hospital run, I think, but the International Committee of the Red Cross. I shall not forget, in Bosnia in about 1992, when someone had been blown up by a mine in a little town called Stari Vitez, my team and I going back to where we lived and prising out of the soles of our Timberland shoes little flecks of different bits of people.
In 2003 I remember standing in a built-up area in northern Iraq and being extremely surprised to see shiny little unexploded bomblets, almost certainly from an American plane. I wondered why they had been used there in those circumstances. Poorly targeted, they do not discriminate between civilian and military targets. When the submunitions fail to explode, they become de facto land mines, every bit as lethal as that experienced by my hon. Friend, causing civilian casualties much later.
A number of countries have refused to sign the convention, most notably Russia and China, which export cluster munitions to third-world countries. We know that the end-user arrangements can be extremely tenuous. Russia’s arms exports are about $10 billion. Chinese defence exports are somewhat lower. Most of those go to Pakistan, another country that has not signed, as is the case for Israel.
By signing the convention, the Government will not be able to stop nasty wars in various parts of the world that are still being fought with the use of cluster munitions. The two latest and most well-known examples are the war between Russia and Georgia and the extensive use of presumably American-made cluster bombs in Lebanon by Israel. I have no idea what is going on in the nastier, darker corners of the world in all those little wars in places such as Africa.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for telling us that.
Now many—dare I say it—responsible first-world countries will not have cluster munitions and will not be able to stockpile them or transfer them. A number of European countries have already signed up to the convention, and the US has tabled the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act to restrict their open use by the military, although like most legislation in the US, that has rather slowed down. But cluster munitions are useful in dire extremis because, as was shown by the US in Iraq, they have the capacity to destroy large armoured formations spread over a large area in a very short time frame.
I was talking to one of my friends about the war in Iraq in 2003, when a multi-launch rocket system was presenting an instant threat, presumably to our troops, and how the use of those munitions instantly got rid of that threat. I accept that in Iraq in 2003, for example, they were massively over-used. I saw that. However, the US will retain them, and as we know, it has no plans to sign the convention. During future coalition operations, the UK will still be able to benefit from the protection afforded by those munitions if the US chooses to deploy them.
As a state party to the convention, the UK is required to promote adherence to the convention and discourage the use of cluster munitions. By ratifying the convention, we have removed the ability to use such weapons. It is a shame that we ratified without an exemption to allow the UK the ability to acquire those weapons in extreme circumstances. That would not prevent us from getting rid of our current stockpile, as we are doing now, which is costing a large amount of money; nor would it prevent the US from stockpiling them in our country. I do not understand the need potentially to endanger the country’s security and the safety of our armed forces, when we have the opportunity now to comply with the convention but retain the ability to protect our troops in extremis.
All weapons are filthy. Cluster munitions and land mines are particularly so because they are cruel and enduring. However, in some dire scenarios, as one of the weapons of last resort, in a deadly battle space, they could have a role. In crude, ugly, practical terms, they could be extremely useful in protecting our troops. I hope we do not regret signing the convention.
This legislation and the convention on cluster munitions are welcome. In warfare we should always strive to ensure that civilian casualties are kept to a minimum. The principle that civilians are protected from the effects of warfare and conflict, and that non-combatants are treated humanely during warfare and conflict and its aftermath, is something that we must observe, and the convention and the legislation take a step in the right direction. At a time when our moral standing as a great power has been questioned morally and ethically in respect of our foreign policy, and widely judged by the public here and abroad, we are sending out a positive signal by ratifying the convention.
I am sure that over the years we have all been contacted by our constituents and various lobby groups and charities, highlighting the dangers of cluster munitions. Even in areas where wars and conflicts have finished, cluster munitions pose a threat to civilians for decades. In Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, there are still regular instances of civilians—often children born a generation after the bombs were dropped—being maimed and killed. It is estimated that there are 300 new victims a year in that area—almost one a day.
A cluster submunition explosion took the life of a 40-year-old man in Quang Tri in Vietnam in February, and five children were killed and another was injured when a cluster submunition exploded in a village in Laos—also in February. Those are just two of the many sad cases that highlight for us all the need to take action, but ratifying the convention and passing the legislation is just one step in the process of dealing with cluster munitions. A number of outstanding issues need to be resolved nationally and internationally to make the convention more effective.
I should welcome from the Minister an explanation of how our obligations under the convention will be consistent with the support that we give to our allies who are not signatories. Article 1 states:
“Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to… Assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.”
The UK has always had an important working relationship with the USA on military operations. However, the USA is not a signatory to the convention, and nor is Pakistan, with whom we are also working on operations in Afghanistan. How will our ratification of the convention and obligations under article 1 be consistent with the joint working relationship that we need with our allies?
By working with those countries on joint military operations, would the UK be in breach of article 1 and the requirement not to “Assist, encourage or induce” others to use cluster bombs? If we gave our allies intelligence on the location of enemy positions in Afghanistan, and they then chose to use cluster bombs in that area, would the UK be in breach of the convention and those officers involved sanctioned under clause 2 of the Bill? Would a British soldier working with US forces on an operation in which cluster munitions were used be prosecuted under clause 2? Or do the Government envisage a protocol whereby we will co-operate with our allies only on the condition that cluster bombs be not used?
In the NATO operation in Serbia and Kosovo, which was championed by our former Prime Minister and widely supported, cluster munitions were used. Under clause 2, however, troops involved in joint operations could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted of “assisting, encouraging or inducing” our allies in using prohibited munitions. Once we ratify the convention, how will future operations be affected when our allies might be using those weapons?
Then there is the matter of cluster munitions at US bases in the UK. The Minister touched on it in his opening comments, but it is unclear whether by permitting that practice the UK would be breaching its obligations and committing an offence under the Bill. As we know from the use of US bases in Britain for extraordinary rendition, whereby Britain has been complicit and implicated in that practice, our moral standing on such issues can be undermined by our associations with our allies. The Government have yet to provide clarity on those matters or the reassurances that we would like to ensure that our armed forces are not compromised in their tremendous work in theatres of war to bring about peace and security.
The Government also need to outline to us their plans to lobby other countries to sign up to the convention. In addition to America and Pakistan, a significant number of other countries have yet to sign up. Israel, Georgia and Russia have all reportedly used cluster munitions and are not signatories to the convention, and we have all seen, from the Georgian-Russian conflict and the ongoing violence in the middle east, the devastating effects of cluster munitions. Other non-signatories include those regional powers that aspire to permanent seats on the UN Security Council—Brazil, India, China, Argentina, North Korea, Iran and Syria—and non-state organisations, such as Hezbollah. There is nothing to prevent those countries and groups from producing such weapons and trading them.
When Parliament agreed to replace Trident, we also agreed to continue to renew our efforts under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to support arms reduction. We should be doing likewise with this convention and pushing forward with efforts to get other countries on board. I would be concerned if the UK had to enter a conflict in which our enemies were using those devices. At the Oslo conference in December 2008, the Foreign Secretary stated that the UK’s decision to sign the convention would send “a clear political message” to others, and it is important that the message is understood by those countries and reinforced.
I understand that under article 3, signatories must undertake to destroy their stockpiles of prohibited cluster munitions within eight years. It would be helpful to know from the Minister the progress that the UK and other parties to the convention are making in destroying those weapons. I should also be interested to know the shelf-life of such weapons, the cost of destroying them and the reduction in cost as a result of the eight-year period.
I should also welcome from the Minister further details on how the UK will meet its obligations to help clear cluster munitions under article 4 of the convention, and to support victims under article 5. Although those measures are not covered by the Bill, they are part of the convention. Some 6 million to 7 million cluster munitions are thought to be in Laos, and munitions are present in Georgia, Africa, Afghanistan and the middle east. The international community has made progress in clearing land mines over recent years, and I urge the Minister to step up efforts, in the year that this convention comes into force, to clear up unexploded cluster munitions. I should welcome also an explanation of how our obligations under the convention will be consistent with the support that we give to our allies who are not signatories to the convention.
When I was a solider, I was trained to understand that cluster munitions would be used to protect areas in the same way as setting land mines would. They were an important defensive measure for an army being trained to resist the might of the Soviet Union. I hope that we will learn what we would do if such threats were to exist in future—although obviously not in the same way as they existed in the ’80s or earlier. We would not like our troops to have their hands tied behind their backs, but equally we must do everything that we can to ensure that stories such as that which my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) told never occur again. Therefore, I welcome the Bill.
It is a pleasure and an honour to be the final Back-Bench speaker in what has been a very powerful and interesting debate. I begin where my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) ended by paying tribute to my hon.—I should say gallant now—Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) for his recounting of a truly incredible story. It was a very moving and vivid account of a personal experience that brought home to him the actual dangers of the very thing that we are discussing today. I am pleased that he survived the incident, although very saddened to hear about the loss of his friends. He has been, and continues to be, an asset to this House, so it was all the more moving to hear about the start of that amazing story back in 1955.
There have been other excellent contributions, and it has been fascinating to hear the interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), who has had first-hand experience of dealing with these munitions, as well as the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway), who has equally wandered the globe, seen those munitions at first hand and seen also the damage that they can do. It is a tribute to the power of this House that we have Members with such knowledge and expertise who can contribute to this debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster stressed that countries that are either applying or want to be at the top table on the UN Security Council may not be signatories to the convention, so I should be interested to hear whether the Minister supports countries putting their names forward to sit at that top table—whether in a permanent or temporary slot—if they have not signed up to the convention.
Before I get into the detail of the Bill, and as we are on the subject of mines, I pay tribute to the 56 Riflemen who have been killed and the 235 Riflemen who have been injured from the 2nd Battalion and 3rd Battalion the Rifles. These deaths and injuries, which have taken place in Afghanistan in the past 12 months alone, show the dangers that those Riflemen are continuing to endure in a war zone. I highlight that because Afghanistan is the war zone at the moment, and we are debating what happens to a war zone once the war is concluded—once the armies pack up and go home and the civilians return to be rehoused or to reoccupy their communities. The Bill is important because it does not discriminate in terms of its application, but there is a legacy for which we are responsible.
I was interested to hear the Minister say that a third of all injuries are to children, who pick up these munitions way after the war has finished and the military has gone on its way. It is worrying in itself that we do not do more to ensure that we clean up after war has taken place.
May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Lieutenant Gareth Evans and Sergeant Balaram Rai of the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers, who died in Kosovo in June 1999 attempting to clear cluster mines so that these very young people and children would not be injured? This is an appropriate moment to put that on record.
I am grateful for that intervention and very pleased that my hon. and gallant Friend has placed that tribute on the record. The sacrifices that our armed forces make, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice, should never be forgotten.
We had some discussion about smart and dumb cluster bombs. I hope that the Bill does not distinguish between the two. A dumb cluster bomb is one that is not designed to explode after a certain time but simply lands and waits for somebody to step on it, whereas a smart one is supposed to overcome that problem and end up exploding of its own accord so that it does not become dangerous ordnance in the aftermath of war. Either way, they are considered as force multipliers, and I am pleased that we are removing those aspects of war.
However, as we have heard time and again, it is all very well our stepping forward and making this noble gesture to remove our arsenal of those weapons, but there are still countries, some of them military allies, that are not only using these weapons but manufacturing them. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster made the important point that if countries such as China are making these weapons, who on earth are they exporting them to? We do not know, but we do know that we might end up bumping into them in one part of the world or another.
There was much talk about matters closer to home—European countries that have yet to ratify the convention. I was also astonished to hear that half the Commonwealth countries, with which one would assume that we have good relationships, have yet to sign the convention, and that a number of European countries—about a third of the European Union—have yet to do so. Again, we do not know where they are exporting to. Eighty-five countries continue to have stockpiles of weapons. I would be keen to learn whether the Minister thinks that all those countries will have destroyed their stockpiles by the time that we have got rid of ours.
Mention was made of Diego Garcia and other British territories overseas. As the Minister said in response to my intervention, we may well ask the Americans to remove their cluster munitions from our soil, but can he guarantee that the same will apply in other locations around the world where we have a British interest?
How will compliance with these measures be confirmed? Is there a UN team that will go in to inspect, or will it simply be done by good will? Is there some form of inspectorate? How will we formally know that this is taking place?
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) raised the issue of financing, and I encourage the Minister to respond to that. We are a cornerstone, internationally and globally, of the financial markets. How can we ensure that our own markets are not used, from a banking perspective, to support companies that may wish to continue to make these munitions?
Something that is missing from the convention itself, let alone the Bill, is a sense of responsibility on the part of countries such as ourselves who have used these munitions in the past but are perhaps not doing enough to clear up the mess having left that legacy behind. The Minister was right to point out that, through DFID, we are doing an awful lot to pay for the existing clear-up, but what a shame that we did not include in the convention a retrospective element according to which signatories are asked to consider what they can do in the former war zones in which they fought to assist with the removal of mines.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster pointed out that Africans are carrying out the clear-up in Argentina—[Interruption.] I am sorry—in the Falklands, not Argentina. I am loth to encourage too many Argentines to make their homes in the Falklands, given the current circumstances. Nevertheless, there is something morally right in seeing an Argentine ordnance team working to remove the munitions that they placed, as well as working with the British to remove the ordnance that we put down. As I said, Argentine ordnance is down there as well, which is why legacy should also be important in the clean-up process.
The Kent-based company that won the contract from the Government to clear the mines employs Zimbabweans. The dilemma that that presents for the Government, on which unfortunately the Minister was unable to offer any clarification, relates to why we are taking that talent—they are brilliant mine-clearing people—from Africa when there is so much demand for it there. Yes, it is nice that we can afford to employ the finest people in the world to clear the mines that the Argentines sowed in the Falklands, but there is a moral dilemma that the Government have completely failed to address.
I entirely take my hon. Friend’s point; he is absolutely right. The demand for the removal of munitions and ordnance in Africa itself exists, so we have to ask ourselves why we are unable to sort out the Falklands in our own way rather than depriving Africa of that asset.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this might be the moment to pay tribute to organisations such as the HALO Trust, which goes off around the world to do this work? I shall never forget seeing one of its staff walking over a hillside with the villagers confined to a particular area to show that he and his colleagues had effectively removed the mines. He walked around for about two and half hours; I am only sorry that he asked me to join him.
I am grateful for that intervention. I am not sure that the HALO Trust has been praised enough. Indeed, other charities do this very difficult work, working alongside our armed forces as well.
The consequence of the western world’s legacy—ours and that of other nations which have fought wars—of minefields and munitions is that more than 90 countries across the globe are contaminated with the remnants of war. We are responsible for sites in Iraq, as we used these munitions when moving towards Basra in 2003. Likewise, there are explosive remnants in Kosovo, Sudan, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kenya. Many areas are inaccessible because of the amount of munitions that are blocking the roads and pathways. In Angola, I understand that 18 provinces have problems in receiving other humanitarian aid because they do not have freedom of movement because of the munitions left on the ground.
The purpose of the Bill and the convention itself is to protect future generations from the consequences of the aftermath of war, so why do nations not contribute to the clean-up? The Minister said that the UK is doing its bit, but cannot we show some leadership to encourage other countries to do the same?
Bosnia has been mentioned, and I remember going in there firstly as part of UN operations. I am afraid that we were very keen to get rid of our blue beret. We had to paint our Warriors in a bright white, which seemed to say, “We are here, please shoot at us.” When we turned into an implementation force, we were pleased to go back into our normal uniforms, and with different rules of engagement we gained the respect of the Bosnians, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.
I recall one very grave moment when we had to punch through an area just north of Sanski Most, near Prijedor, where we had to try to provide a road link between a Serb area and a Muslim area. It was quite a moment for me to have to send one of my Warrior tanks in front of me to pave the way through. We did not know what was going to happen. Thankfully we were able to break through, and I believe that that crossing is still called the Bondi beach crossing point. It was one of the main arterial routes that we were able to make. We could not go either side of the area and so we then had to mark it off, and I understand that it is still marked off to this very day. Children are prevented from going into it, and one of the educational things that they do when they are growing up is to learn about minefield signs. It cannot be right that they are having to do that in the heart of Europe.
I questioned the Minister about the use of other institutions and organisations in Europe, and he dismissed the idea that NATO might have a role and might be able to encourage its member states to participate. He rolls his eyes, but NATO uses the munitions in question. If we could oblige the armed forces to remove them from their arsenal, that would surely be a positive step. They could then say to their political masters, “Yes, we have got rid of them. We have designed our suite of warfare assets so that we no longer rely on such munitions.” That is worth exploring, and I would be happy to point the Minister in the direction of Admiral Jim Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who would be delighted to have a conversation with him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) made the valid point that the EU has the European Defence Agency. Why on earth is that not being used as a vehicle to encourage the moves that we want? We do not have to force the matter, but why is it not brought up for debate? The Minister shakes his head, but we could show some British leadership by using such vehicles to encourage our allies. It cannot be right that Turkey is still unwilling to sign the convention. That could mean that we go to war with Turkey as our NATO ally and find it using the munitions in question because it believes it is still okay to do so. The Minister did not explain what would happen to an officer working with or in the neighbourhood of Turkish forces if they were to use those munitions. That is not covered in the Bill—no such crime is set out in it. The crimes, punishments, threats and so on laid out in the Bill are all about what happens on British soil. That needs to be explored in Committee, and I hope that the Minister has time to answer the questions that I have asked him.
The conduct of war has changed. I think I am right in saying that the Minister mentioned Henry Dunant, whose writings about the horrors of war in his book “A Memory of Solferino” in 1862 were the genesis of the Red Cross. Since then, advances in technology have taken place and our moral understanding of what is right and wrong in the conduct of war has changed. We now have the Geneva conventions, and the Minister also mentioned the prohibition of mustard gas as a form of warfare. However, even in 2003 we were using the munitions covered in the Bill. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) secured an Adjournment debate in 2006 on the very issue of prohibiting them, and a Defence Minister said, “Not possible.”
The point is made, but that shows how the argument has advanced.
Ernest Hemingway said:
“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”
Today, we strive to make one very small but ugly facet of war a crime, and that must be a positive thing. More recently, General Petraeus has said that we must think of war in a very different way—it is no longer enough just to destroy the enemy, we have to enable the local, and only then is our job done properly. We cannot enable the local if we leave behind a legacy of munitions. I am pleased to add my weight and support to the Bill, which is morally and ethically the right thing to do and a very positive step forward.
This has been a wide-ranging and well-informed debate. I, too, wish to place on record my support for and belief in the work of many aid organisations dealing with mines and with the aftermath of mines and cluster munitions, and that of our own mine clearance personnel in the British armed forces. It was a business that had declined in the ’70s and ’80s to a narrow profession dealing on the whole with specific kinds of munitions in the internal conflict in Northern Ireland, but it has grown like Topsy because of Iraq and Afghanistan.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), like other colleagues with military service and experience, put his finger on it when he asked what was the original purpose of the munitions in question. It was to enable the side that was weaker on the whole, whether on a tactical or operational level, to block off large areas of a battlefield against a superior enemy, and at least divert him or hold him up. As many of us know who lived through the cold war—the balance between NATO and the Warsaw pact—they were developed because it was assumed that there would be an overwhelming Soviet and Warsaw pact attack on NATO, and that if we were not immediately to use nuclear weapons, the next worst thing was conventional weapons such as these.
We then tried to distinguish between the use of cluster munitions in what I would still call “conventional warfare”, which could somehow be regarded as good use—although God alone knows what West Germany would have looked like in the midst of it all—and bad use in unconventional warfare, which would involve the death of large numbers of civilians and be indiscriminate, however we define that word. I do not want to become an old military historian bore, but—
The Minister has just enticed me to speak for at least another hour—he should be very careful about teasing me at the Dispatch Box.
We have to accept that, horrendously, tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the two world wars by direct munitions. We can think of the 30,000 French casualties during the liberation of Normandy or the tens of thousands of British and German civilians who were killed in area bombing, many of them by land mines that were left behind. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) said that those who drop or lay mines should effectively be responsible for clearing up, but that has not applied in the case of either the British or German Government. In fact, it is the home Government who have to do it. The only contribution that we have made to the continuing business of collecting munitions dropped by Bomber Command during the second world war has been to provide, thank goodness, an amazing array of aerial photographs.
The casualty element of the problem, which my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) so movingly brought to bear on the debate, shows the legacy of these weapons. It is sometimes difficult for us to think about the tens of thousands of people affected in Cambodia, Afghanistan and elsewhere—they are numbers, despite the photographs and so on. The legacy of the weapons in question still exists, and there are still casualties in Belgium and northern France from munitions from the two world wars. An old friend of mine was killed 11 years ago. He was a military historian at Sandhurst who foolishly brought back a piece of unexploded munitions from the battlefield in France, quite illegally. It was placed on his study desk, and one evening he was working, the heat in the room changed and the thing blew up and killed him. He is not alone. There is therefore a historical element to such casualties.
My next point is important; I do not believe that my hon. Friends made it to undermine the purpose of the Bill, which they all said that they support. However, several colleagues asked why the UK Government changed their mind about the decision to do without cluster munitions. It might be helpful to the debate in Committee if the Minister provided an aide-mémoire from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, outlining the reasons for the decision. My shorthand on the matter is that the Ministry of Defence was always loth to give up that range of munitions, partly because it was still thinking in cold war terms, but also because it believed that there was always a possibility of finding ourselves in a conflict in which we might need such munitions. It is a fair and legitimate question for colleagues to ask. I urge the Minister to ask the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence to provide, if possible, an aide- mémoire. I imagine that it is possible because the information cannot be restricted, certainly not nowadays, or it would automatically end up in The Independent or The Times. An aide-mémoire should be produced in time for Committee stage. I am sure that that will find support from hon. Members of all parties.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) asked a series of questions. The first—an important question—was, what changed the Government’s mind? He, like other colleagues, rightly made the point that many of our allies still see the utility of possessing the munitions. I will not regurgitate the arguments of particularly my hon. Friends about how we operate in coalitions when some of our partners still possess and maintain the right to use such weapons under certain circumstances. I do not think that that is legal nit-picking—there is potentially a genuine problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and others asked about the indirect financing of cluster munitions and where that fits in the Bill.
My hon. Friend’s final point was that there is no explicit commitment by the UK Government to meet the eight-year deadline in the Bill. The Minister is doing a cute frown at me and fluttering his eyelids in a way that only the Government Whips Office normally sees.
Indeed. The Government Whip is looking affronted.
I should be grateful if the Minister explained in detail the reason for the absence of the commitment to meet the deadline in the Bill.
Supporting the Bill means that we accept that the UK not only accepts legal liabilities, but voluntarily gives up a military/defence weapons system, and that we recognise that the effect of that system is horrendous, whether on soldiers or civilians. One of the unspoken aspects is that our military personnel, civilian personnel and many non-governmental organisations nevertheless have to operate in truly asymmetric conflicts. The other side, whether a legally based Government or irregular forces, is not constrained. British troops and civilian personnel, with other coalition forces, are risking their lives at this moment in Afghanistan to support a legitimate Government, and are facing an enemy that operates with no constraints, and effectively uses cluster munitions. I do not know whether, in the parameters of international law, there is any way in which we can bring some form of legal consequences upon not only those who plant such munitions, but those who direct them. It is demonstrably unfair that we are placed in such a position and that the enemy has all the advantages. We may have the moral high ground, but they do not suffer any consequences for the sort of warfare that they are waging.
Hon. Members of all parties support the Bill. They have asked questions in a positive spirit and we look forward the Minister’s comments and views.
With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I rise to reply to the debate.
It has been interesting to have a debate in which so many Members who have served in the armed forces have participated, and in which everybody has essentially said the same thing: we want to move forward to ratify on the UK’s behalf the convention banning cluster munitions. However, the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) implied, “Yes, we want to agree the Bill, but we would really rather like to keep the capability that cluster munitions provide”—
With respect to the Minister, this happens in so many Committees—it is a good example of new Labour setting dividing lines. There are no dividing lines on the measure. We support the Bill. We have asked legitimate questions that relate not only to the safety of many civilians throughout the world, but to our armed forces. The questions were asked not merely to spin out the time—they are legitimate and put by colleagues, many of whom have much greater experience than the Minister or me.
I was not questioning any of the other hon. Members; I was merely commenting on my understanding of the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, but he seems now to be much more unambiguously supportive of the Bill—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who comments from a sedentary position, was not in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk began his speech.
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to leave the matter there. We have had a good tempered debate, and that matter should not be taken any further. I think that the Minister should not take the intervention, but proceed with his speech.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that I apologise if I have inadvertently misled the House.
Several hon. Members made important contributions and paid tribute, like the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk, to our armed forces, who have made valiant efforts—some so valiant as to lose their lives—in clearing mines around the world. Several hon. Members referred to the effort that has had to be made in Bosnia, but there are many other parts of the world where British troops are currently involved in clearing mines, training many others and providing education so that local societies can move on. I also pay tribute to the work of the HALO Trust, to which, again, several hon. Members referred.
It is also worth bearing in mind that many of those who have taken the most active interest in the issue are Members not of this House but of the other place. They have engaged with the matter directly and pushed for some time for a change in the position. It is worth acknowledging that not only Government Front Benchers—as my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) said—but the Opposition have changed their position in the past five years. As I acknowledged in my opening remarks, the Ministry of Defence has co-operated fully in the process in the past couple of years of trying to reach a position whereby we have a clear understanding of the requirements of British personnel working with other countries that are not signatories.
The first question asked by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) was about whether our capability is being undermined by banning such munitions. For me, it is not so much a matter of whether our capability has changed. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it would be nice to be able to use every weapon available to humanity, but we have always decided that there are moral limits to what should be available to the armed forces. Trying to reach a universal position on that protects not only our forces but our moral integrity.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) pointed to another element of the debate on cluster munitions, which is that they can be profoundly counter-productive. In many of the places where British troops have been engaged in recent years, it has been far more difficult to win over hearts and minds if, day after day, children are losing their legs and their lives because unexploded artillery and ordnance eventually explodes.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) asked about indirect financing and told us that the Swiss Government have legislated on that. If he does not mind my saying so, that is slightly incorrect. The Swiss Parliament has passed a motion on the matter, but the Swiss Government have yet to act on it. If he looks at the written ministerial statement that I made in December, he will see that we are keen to move on indirect financing as fast and effectively as possible. However, as all hon. Members who mentioned such financing this afternoon have said, it is very complex and it is difficult to know where the concept ends. What if a bank that dealt with another bank financed a company whose main business was not providing or manufacturing cluster munitions, but providing insurance for another company that did so? There are complications for which it would be difficult to legislate at this point, but we are keen to work with other countries on the matter.
Article 11 of the convention stipulates that meetings of the states parties will begin later this year, after the August commencement. Obviously, that will be an opportunity for us to monitor the process whereby we move towards a much greater number of countries signing up. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East complained about me rolling my eyes when he asked whether NATO is the body through which to lobby other countries, including NATO members that have not signed up, or the EU. The only reason I rolled my eyes is that I believe the place to lobby other countries is in the meetings of the states parties. We need to act not unilaterally, but with many others, so as to bring the whole of the world community on board. At the moment, if we acted through NATO, we would unfortunately get a rather robust reply in return. He should not doubt our determination to secure ratification by countries such as Turkey and the United States of America, but I am not sure that NATO is the right place to do that.
I do not know how much time the Minister spends around soldiers, but that is an important aspect of the question. If he engaged and worked with the senior military and gained an understanding of the array of assets that they have, and then allowed the military to consider how they might replace what is missing from their armoury, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) suggested in his winding-up speech, the political will would be the other way around. That is another angle to come at the matter, but in that way, the military could take the lead.
My experience of the armed forces is nowhere near as extensive as the hon. Gentleman’s—mine relates only to the work of the armed forces parliamentary scheme—but he is right that our military obviously have a key role to play in changing the world view of other militaries around the world. Many such discussions take place, which is why I referred earlier to the significant role played by our defence attachés in other countries.
I am not sure that that is the right way forward. I am quite happy to argue the case in Committee—it is the Government’s job to defend the arguments we advance—but the primary issue is not only ensuring that our defence personnel have the capability they require to do the job, but ensuring that our moral peril and the physical peril to others, including the collateral damage that others sustain, is proportionate to the weaponry we use. That is an important part of the doctrine that has been around in different forms from 1868, through to the Geneva protocol of 1925 and the Landmines Act 1998.
In his proposal for a joint departmental paper in time for Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) was seeking to enable the House to understand the military’s judgment on whether the loss of capability, which we all accept will happen, is of serious or relatively minor significance. How do we measure that loss of capability when it comes to making the judgment to take the moral standard that the Minister has described?
The hon. Gentleman will have to tease that out in Committee. The specific question he asked earlier was whether the Chief of the Defence Staff is happy with the situation, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he is.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury raised the question of whether we would be advancing the measure in the overseas territories. The answer is that we will; that will be our standard procedure. The hon. Gentleman and several hon. Members asked about stockpiles in the UK. The American stockpiles will be gone from the UK itself by the end of this year, and they will be gone from other UK territories, including Diego Garcia, by the end of 2013. I hope that that clarifies things.
I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way to me for what I believe is the first time in this debate. He said that weapons would be removed from Diego Garcia by 2013, but I want to press him on verification, which I raised in my speech. How will we have certainty and transparency? Presumably, we are not going to rely on the Americans’ say-so.
The transparency clauses in the Bill clearly enable us to do that—it is pretty straightforward, and in any case, it stems originally from the convention.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), because he has kept up his campaign for a good number of years. He has been an assiduous Member and we could not have this legislation without his contribution. He tabled early-day motion 1101 in the previous Session, which congratulated the US Congress on its move to prohibit the export of cluster munitions that failed in more than 1 per cent. of cases. There is a possibility of change in other states around the world, and we need to move forward on that.
My hon. Friend asked whether the destruction of stockpiles will be permanent, which it will, and what we are doing to ensure universal application. Mainly, we are trying to talk to every country where we have a key relationship, especially a key military relationship, such as Turkey, Russia and the United States, to move that forward.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) referred to the issue of Diego Garcia and I hope that I have answered her point. She also asked about transit through the UK. That would not in itself be prohibited, but a direct application would have to be made to the Secretary of State who would have to grant permission before it could happen. We would be reluctant to grant such permission. The hon. Lady also asked about the US stockpiles and I hope that I have answered those questions.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) made a wonderful speech. I hope that I unite all hon. Members this afternoon if I say that he is one of our most decent Members, which I am sure is why the Anglican Church has made him an honorary canon. Fortunately, he did not go off this afternoon. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] He told us a moving story and I will write to the relevant Department—although I am not sure which it would be—to check up on the missing mines of Swanage beach. He also mentioned white phosphorus and depleted uranium. At the end of “The Woodlanders”, it is said of Giles Winterbourne:
“For you was a good man, and did good things.”
The hon. Gentleman is a good man and he makes good speeches.
The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) made an interesting contribution based on his own experiences. I disagreed with him only on his point that we should retain or seek to retain the permission to have cluster weapons in extremis. This is the line we are drawing, and it is an end to cluster munitions.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) raised several questions and I hope that I have already dealt with most of them. He asked about whether we would be in breach of article 1, but we would not, because of article 21 which makes specific provision on that point.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East referred to all the countries that are non-signatories. He can stand in no doubt that we will do everything that we can to try to bring as many countries on board as possible. He asked about the Argentine ordnance in the Falklands and whether it would be a good idea to get the Argentines to deal with that. At this particular moment in time, it would not be a good idea to encourage Argentines to travel to the Falklands.
I am glad that hon. Members have supported the broad principles of the Bill and I hope that we will have unanimous support for its Second Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [Lords] (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [Lords]:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
2. Proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be completed at one day’s sitting.
3. Proceedings in Committee and any proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
5. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading.
Programming other proceedings
6. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Mr. Watts.)
Question agreed to.
Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [Lords] (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise—
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State under the Act, and
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Mr. Watts.)
Question agreed to.