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Commons Chamber

Volume 507: debated on Wednesday 17 March 2010

House of Commons

Wednesday 17 March 2010

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Crime Levels

As a member of the national policing board and the crime reduction board, I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on all matters relating to law and order. The latest statistics show that, overall, recorded crime in Wales is down 3 per cent. on last year.

I thank the Minister for that response. I have in my hand an article from the Daily Post, which says that north Wales is one of the safest places to live in the whole of Britain. Denbighshire has the third best crime and disorder reduction partnership in the whole of England and Wales. Why are Tory MPs and candidates in north Wales going round claiming that violent crime there has risen by 68 per cent.?

It is not for me to say why the Conservative party behaves as it does. I simply say that that comes as no surprise; it is a dodgy party that uses dodgy statistics.

Alcohol continues to play a major role in fuelling violence and criminal behaviour in my constituency and across Wales. In the light of that, what discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in Westminster and in the Welsh Assembly Government on introducing a minimum price for alcohol?

Discussions on that issue are ongoing. It is important to recognise that the Government take a firm stance on issues associated with alcohol abuse and antisocial behaviour arising from it. That is one of our priorities, and it goes hand in hand with the emphasis that we continually place on neighbourhood policing.

Tax Credits

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the tax credit system in Wales. (321806)

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the number of families claiming tax credits in Wales. (321813)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the number of families claiming tax credits in Wales. (321815)

We introduced tax credits to provide support to families, to help to reduce child poverty and to make work pay, benefiting about 326,000 families and more than 500,000 children in Wales.

Happy St. Patrick’s day, Mr. Speaker.

Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he has no plans to axe or cut tax credits?

I, too, wish you a happy St. Patrick’s day, Mr. Speaker.

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, as can the whole Government. Tax credits have made work pay, lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty, and encouraged people to get off benefits and into work. That is why I resent the fact that there is now a Tory sword of Damocles hanging over tax credits for those on low and modest incomes in Wales. The sooner that the Conservatives stop threatening to cut tax credits and many other support mechanisms in Wales, the better.

In my constituency, just more than 7,000 families have benefited from the child tax credit system. Can the Secretary of State tell me how many families in total have benefited from the policies of this Government on this important issue?

As I have said, 326,000 families have benefited right across Wales. This is not simply a question of their benefiting from tax credits; these measures have helped to lift people out of poverty. About 50,000 children in Wales have been lifted out of poverty, and we also have a policy to offer free breakfasts for primary school children. That is part of our policy of tackling poverty. All that would be threatened if the Tory policies to cut free breakfasts for primary school children and to cut tax credits were ever introduced.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with my constituents that the tax credit system is certainly not a gimmick? Will he confirm my understanding that this Labour Government will continue with the £66,000 limit, whereas the Tory proposal is to reduce it to £50,000, which would certainly affect my constituents?

Order. I know that the Secretary of State will probably not need reminding, but I hope that he will focus his reply only on the policy of the Government.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams), who is standing down at the next election. She has been a real warrior for north Wales, and particularly for women right across Wales. Everyone respects her for that. As she has said, tax credits have played an absolutely vital role, particularly during the downturn, in helping to keep people in work and off benefits. About 21,600 families whose income fell for six months last year benefited from an average increase of £36 a week in tax credits. That helped to keep people in work, and those people would not have stayed in work if that support mechanism had been cut from underneath them, as the Conservatives are planning.

Is not this pathetic scaremongering over tax credits merely a smokescreen to prevent discussion of Labour’s true failure on welfare in Wales—namely, that after 13 years of this sorry Government, almost exactly one quarter of the working age population in Wales is economically inactive, out of work and doing nothing? That is a shameful record.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman dares to mention economic inactivity on a day when the statistics show that it has fallen in Wales by a larger proportion than anywhere else in the UK. This shows that the curse that we inherited from the Conservative Government of people being smuggled off the dole queue on to incapacity benefit and of other forms of economic inactivity has been tackled under Labour. Employment is up to nearly 100,000 extra jobs in Wales, giving people more support, while economic inactivity is down, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many constituents at his advice surgeries have been in tears in his office because of the tax credit system over the past five years?

I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I have had in my constituency—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question.”] I am answering the question, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will like the answer. In my constituency office, I have seen people desperately worried—some in tears—about the threat to their tax credits from the Conservatives, should the Conservatives get into government. Many thousands of my constituents, and many tens of thousands across Wales, have benefited from tax credits, which have given them much better prospects for prosperity in the future.

No would argue other than that the driver for tax credits is a perfectly acceptable and laudable aim, but we all have lots of cases in our constituency surgeries of where they have gone wrong. About 80,000 families in Wales are not claiming a total of £140 million that could be claimed. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should look at raising the income tax threshold by £1,000 to take those people out of the bureaucracy and mistake-making?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have lifted many thousands of people across Wales out of tax altogether through the changes that we have made to taxation. Of course, we want to make sure that especially those on low incomes pay the minimum possible tax and no tax at all, if possible. The tax credit system, notwithstanding the administrative problems that we have seen at the heart of it, has liberated many hundreds of thousands of people right across Britain, including Wales, giving them a chance to work. Otherwise, those people would have been languishing on benefits, as they were under the Conservatives.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that families in my constituency and in Wales will benefit from the policy change recently announced by the Government, which means that there will be much greater flexibility in the tax credit system to cope with changes in the make-up of the household? Will that not provide an even better way of targeting help to those at work who most need it?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Women have especially benefited from tax credits, and they feel especially threatened by the policies of the Opposition. May I take this opportunity to welcome the fact that some 400 new jobs for 18 to 24-year-olds have been announced today in Cardiff, spearheaded by Cardiff county council, which will help to create employment? Many of them will be able to benefit from tax credits in the future, if this Labour Government, but not the Conservatives, are re-elected.

As we have heard, the tax credit system is very complex and fraught with difficulties. I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that one of the main causes of poverty in Wales is the very low level at which income tax starts being paid, which stops people entering or re-entering the employment market. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity this morning to support the Liberal Democrat proposal to have a personal income tax allowance of £10,000, which would take 220,000 people out of tax altogether in Wales?

I am not sure how that policy fits with the Liberal Democrat policy of cutting tax credits to many on modest incomes—a policy shared with the Conservatives. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome not only how the tax credit system has benefited so many people in Wales, but the fact that unemployment measured by the claimant count is down, that employment is up and that economic inactivity is down—all better news as Wales struggles to get out of this recession. The situation is still very fragile, but we are making progress, which would be wrecked if the Conservative policies of cuts were ever to take effect.

Tax credits offer important support to people who are in work, and we support them. Many voters in Wales will be surprised that the Secretary of State thinks that £50,000 is a low income—it obviously is to him. This morning’s figures show that the Labour Government have mismanaged this economy, that 9,000 more Welsh workers have lost their jobs and that the Welsh unemployment rate is the worst in the UK. Is the right hon. Gentleman not ashamed that more and more people in Wales are no longer eligible for working tax credits? How can he so blithely say “making work pay”, when one in 10 are now not actually working?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that household incomes of £31,000 or more will be subject to tax cuts if Conservative policies are implemented, and that the figure of £50,000 cited by the shadow Chancellor is wrong. I prefer to believe the IFS rather than the shadow Chancellor, especially given that his policies are being powered by Lord Ashcroft’s illegal—


3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on support for pensioners in Wales. (321808)

Let me first pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is standing down after many years’ service in the House.

Labour policies since 1997 have provided generous support for pensioners in Wales and across the United Kingdom, and nearly 900,000 fewer of them are now living in poverty.

As my right hon. Friend has said, I shall, sadly, be standing down at the next election and beginning my retirement in Wales.

Far more sadly, I shall shortly be staring the state pension age in the face; I know that that is hard to believe. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the real benefits enjoyed by pensioners in Wales are maintained, especially winter fuel payments?

My hon. Friend’s young appearance will be sadly missed, particularly the bow tie, which is almost unique in the Chamber. I agree with him that winter fuel payments—introduced by this Government, and increased by them to £400 a year for those over 80 and £250 a year, tax-free, for those over 60—are a vital support measure, as are free bus passes and free prescriptions, especially in Wales. All those benefits would be under threat, if the £20 billion cuts promised by the shadow Business Secretary were introduced, which is what we would expect from a Conservative Government.

Many Welsh pensioners would now be enjoying a considerably more comfortable retirement if the then Chancellor, the current Prime Minister, had not decided in 1997 to abolish advance corporation tax credits for pension funds. Does the Secretary of State think, 13 years later, that that £100 billion raid on pension funds was right?

The truth is that pensioners are a great deal better off under this Labour Government. Pensioner households in Wales will be £1,500 better off this year, and the poorest third of pensioner households will be £2,100 better off. Why does the hon. Gentleman not stop his party, and its candidates and Members of Parliament, attacking policies such as free bus travel and free prescriptions for pensioners in Wales?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that the free bus pass has not only given pensioners a new lease of life, but has had the environmental benefit of getting people out of their cars and making rural buses more viable. Will he talk to his counterparts in the Welsh Assembly to ensure that funding for rural buses continues, so that they are available to the pensioners who want to use them?

I will certainly do that, but policies such as free bus travel for pensioners can continue only if the Welsh Assembly Government receive support from the Government in Westminster. If the cuts promised by the shadow Business Secretary yesterday are implemented—an extra £20 billion of cuts are planned over the next few years—the Welsh Assembly Government will not possibly be able to fund free bus passes for pensioners, free prescriptions, and free breakfasts for primary school children. All those things will be under threat.

Research Councils (University Funding)

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the allocation of funding by the research councils to universities in Wales. (321809)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had a number of discussions about how best to strengthen Wales’s research capacity. We also have regular discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government about the issue, because we recognise that it is vitally important.

I thank the Minister for meeting me earlier this week to discuss Aberystwyth university. Will he also note that, according to the most recent report by the Welsh Affairs Committee,

“the proposal to concentrate research funds appears likely further to limit the opportunities”

for Welsh universities

“to maintain and develop their research capabilities”?

That view will resonate strongly with my constituents in Aberystwyth, where 70 people face the prospect of job losses. Yes, money should follow excellence, but it should also follow the excellence of the future.

The hon. Gentleman and I had a very useful discussion on Monday, in which we addressed the situation in Aberystwyth, in particular with regard to IBERS—the institute of biological, environmental and rural sciences. We fully recognise the excellent work that is done there; I have visited it myself and have seen at first hand the exemplary research that is conducted. Any restructuring is, however, a matter for Aberystwyth university; any restructuring that has been taking place is not a result of any reduction in research council funding, and that support will continue.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the creation of the new Trinity St. David university, based in my constituency, which will act as a strategic hub in the regional framework, linking with Swansea Metropolitan university, Coleg Sir Gâr and Pembrokeshire college, and thereby creating a dynamic learning and skills powerhouse for post-16 education in south-west Wales? Also, is this not one of the key developments that could be put at risk by—

The answer to that last question is, of course, yes. It is vitally important that we continue to invest strategically to make sure that we develop the capacity of our people to the full. As we come out of the current recession and look to the future, it is essential that we invest in higher education and research and development, and that is happening through partnership between this Government and the Welsh Assembly.

It seems that the Minister is content with a situation whereby Welsh universities—Bangor, Aberystwyth and the rest—are short-changed by £41 million in research money per year, as identified in the Welsh Affairs Committee report on cross-border public services. Is this not yet another case of throwing millions of pounds at people who already have, and ça ne fait rien for the rest?

Well, let us be clear that investment in higher and further education—and education generally—in Wales is gathering momentum and continuing apace. It is extremely important that that happens, because we recognise that investment in skills, education and research and development is the bedrock on which our recovery must be based. That is why public expenditure is so important. That is what we believe in; sadly, Conservative Members do not.

St. Athan Defence Training College

5. What recent discussions he has had with Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on preparations for the construction of the defence training college at St. Athan. (321810)

May I begin by paying tribute to the excellent work that my right hon. Friend has done over a number of years and wish him well in his retirement?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has discussed with the First Minister the significant economic benefits that the defence training college will bring as the single largest defence investment in Wales.

As we celebrate St. Patrick’s day, we should all remember, of course, that St. Patrick was a Welshman born in the county of Gwent.

The defence training college will greatly increase the defence footprint in Wales, and will lead to the creation of large numbers of highly paid and highly skilled jobs, but will my hon. Friend confirm whether it is still the Government’s policy to allow private companies to buy training packages from what will be a world-class facility?

I confirm that the Labour Government’s policy remains unchanged: bona fide defence organisations will, of course, have the opportunity to use this excellent £12 billion facility. May I also emphasise that this is the single largest defence investment Wales will have ever seen? Labour Members are fully committed to it, and I only wish that Opposition Members were equally committed.

If the Government press ahead with the construction of this defence training college, how will Ministers address the fact that a recent survey by the Public and Commercial Services Union suggested that 74 per cent. of civilian instructors will be either unwilling or unable to relocate from Shropshire to Wales because of the difference in house prices?

The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing and consistent opponent of this exemplary defence establishment, which is most unfortunate. [Interruption.] Labour Members are full-square behind it. We recognise that this will be a huge investment for south Wales. [Interruption.] It will be a massive boost for the Welsh economy, providing thousands of jobs and, most importantly, first-class training for our armed forces.

Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place on both sides of the Chamber. It is very unfair to the Member asking the question and to the Minister answering it.

Devolution Settlement

6. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the question of the devolution settlement under the Government of Wales Act 2006; and if he will make a statement. (321812)

We regularly discuss how the Government of Wales Act 2006 is delivering powers for the Assembly—so far, in 58 different areas over the past two years.

Are there discussions on taxation powers for the Welsh Assembly? What we have learned in Scotland is that although we may already have them, they are never used by any party and are actually a waste of time.

There has been no pressure—certainly from the Government side—to introduce tax-varying powers for the Welsh Assembly Government. As my hon. Friend has said, they have not been used in Scotland to date.

Why is it right for an English Minister to sit as judge and jury on the question of bilingual juries? Should this not be a decision made in Wales for Wales by a Welsh Government elected by the Welsh people?

I understand the passion with which the hon. Gentleman asks the question. The issue that Ministers have had to grapple with is balancing the right and desire of Welsh speakers to have bilingual juries with ensuring at the same time that random selection is maintained. This is part of a continuing dialogue as we move into the future.

On his own website, the Secretary of State says that it is “clear” to him

“that a referendum held before or in 2011 would be lost”,

and that further powers should not be granted

“today…tomorrow, nor even next year or the year after that”.

Given these comments, will he be accepting the referendum request currently sitting on his desk, or, like so many of his colleagues, will he be waiting for any decisions to be taken by an incoming Conservative Government?

As the hon. Lady very well knows, Labour is the party of devolution. We are the only party that has delivered any extra powers for Wales, and I, as Secretary of State, am proud that I legislated in the 2006 Act for the option of a referendum to deliver full law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly Government, and in time I am sure that that will come about. Specifically, as she has asked, work is continuing among my officials in response to the First Minister’s request under the 2006 Act to take this process forward, so that a referendum can be called as and when it is required.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Welsh Affairs Committee has completed all its pre-legislative scrutiny of the legislative competence orders that have come before it. [Interruption.] Can he give an assurance to the House that he will make every effort to ensure that these orders complete all their remaining stages before the Dissolution of Parliament? [Interruption.]

Order. The House really must come to order. The Chair of the Select Committee has just asked a question and it really is the height of discourtesy for him not to be heard.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee in taking forward record levels of scrutiny and speeding this process through. It is our Government’s determination that all the legislative competence orders that have been effectively scrutinised by his Committee will get Royal Assent. There is a Statutory Instrument Committee next week, and I hope that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) will co-operate in speeding those through. Yes, in the wash-up negotiations, I hope that the Opposition will back the Welsh Assembly Government’s policy and the LCO to deliver policies to tackle lack of housing and homelessness in Wales, which they are threatening to block.

Before the House rises for the election, will the Secretary of State be willing to share a date for a referendum on further devolution of powers?

This is a matter for consideration after the general election. All the parties agree with that, and that is the position made clear by the First Minister only yesterday.

Economic Activity

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the level of economic inactivity in Wales. (321816)

The latest labour market statistics show the economic inactivity level in Wales falling by 9,000 in the last quarter. This is the largest fall in the United Kingdom.

When one analyses the unemployment figures, one finds that 100 people a day were made unemployed in Wales in the three months to January of this year. Is the Minister not ashamed of that and of the lack of drive on fixing the Welsh economy?

Employment figures in Wales are higher than they have been for a long time and compare very favourably with the situation in Wales under the previous Conservative Government. The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about economic inactivity, which has fallen by 0.5 per cent. in Wales. That is enormously significant. I remember what happened to economic inactivity when the Conservatives were last in power: all the pits were closed, and a generation of the work force was thrown on to the dole and forgotten about. That will never happen again, under us.

Despite the worst global recession for more than half a century, the level of unemployment in my constituency is 57 per cent. lower than it was in 1992. Does the Minister agree that investment, such as the £635 million at RAF Valley, will provide apprenticeships and new quality jobs in the future, and that that would be under threat if the Conservatives ever came to office?

My hon. Friend is right to cite what is happening at RAF Valley and the defence investment that is taking place there. Such investment is not only happening with the defence training college at St. Athan; it is happening in many other parts of Wales, including the RAF Valley establishment in north Wales. That reinforces the fact that the level of employment in Wales is 100,000 higher than it was under the Conservatives, and we will continue to ensure that creating jobs is our priority.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I know that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the three members of our armed forces from 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment attached to the Household Cavalry Regiment Battle Group who have lost their lives in Afghanistan this week. Their bravery and the sacrifice they have made for the future of Afghanistan and for the security of the British people will not be forgotten. Our thoughts today are with their families and loved ones as they receive this very sad news.

I am sure that the House will also want us to pay respects to Dr. Ashok Kumar, who sadly died this week. He was a tenacious campaigner and a passionate advocate for the people of Teesside, and his expertise and wise counsel will be sorely missed at all times in this House.

I am sure the whole House would wish to support the Prime Minister in his condolences for the tragic loss of the lives of British servicemen, who died doing their duty, and in his comments about the death of Ashok Kumar, who was a genuinely decent colleague.

The Prime Minister told the Chilcot inquiry and the House that defence expenditure rose in real terms every year. The House of Commons Library has now produced figures that clearly show that that assertion is simply incorrect. This is the first opportunity the Prime Minister has had in the House to set the record straight. Will he now do so? Will he also write to Chilcot to ensure that the inquiry’s record is also corrected?

Yes, and I am already writing to Sir John Chilcot about this issue. Defence spending rose from £21 billion in 1997 to about £40 billion this year; it rose every year in cash terms. For a number of operational and other reasons, the real-terms rise in the defence budget was 12 per cent. over the past 13 years. Because of our expenditure on Afghanistan and on Iraq we have spent £17 billion more than the defence budget, but because of operational fluctuations in the way the money is spent expenditure has risen in cash terms every year, in real terms it is 12 per cent. higher, but I do accept that in one or two years defence expenditure did not rise in real terms.

Q14. The nine Sure Start children’s centres in my constituency are doing an exceptional job. One head teacher, whose school has a centre attached to it, has told me that it would be a massive backward step to restrict access to that centre in any way, so can my right hon. Friend assure him and me that we will not do that? (322431)

We have opened 3,500 Sure Start centres in this country; that is a children’s centre open in almost every community of the country, available to all families and to all children. That is a major transformation of children’s services since 1997, and it would be a very sad day if an all-party consensus could not be reached on the fact that what we do for our under-fives is an essential element of early learning and an essential element of the development of their potential. The Conservative policy to cut back on Sure Start children’s centres—[Interruption.] I think they protest too much, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition said that Sure Start centres would be better targeted at the deprived communities of this country and not the 100 per cent. who need them.

May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the soldier from 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment who died at Selly Oak on Monday after serving his country in Afghanistan and to the two other soldiers from the same regiment who were killed yesterday? Anyone who has been to Selly Oak knows the brilliant work that the staff do there and everyone should pay tribute to them. The sacrifice of these soldiers should never be forgotten.

May I also join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Ashok Kumar, who died at a young age? He was respected on both sides of the House for his hard work representing a constituency that he loved and campaigning for the causes in which he believed. The House has lost a great representative and our thoughts should be with his friends and family at this time.

Before I go on to my other questions, may I thank the Prime Minister for his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry)? In three years of asking the Prime Minister questions, I do not think that I have ever heard him make a correction or a retraction. The fact is that if one looks at defence spending figures or defence budget figures, there have been years when there have been real-terms cuts, and at last the Prime Minister has admitted it. On a day when he has had to admit that he cannot get his own figures right, perhaps we should not have to listen to him talking about Conservative policy.

Let me turn to the strike that threatens to disrupt travel for thousands of people this weekend. Lord Adonis says that it will

“threaten the very existence of British Airways.”

When the Prime Minister was asked about it, he said, “It’s the wrong time.” Will he tell us when is the right time for a strike that threatens the future of one of Britain’s biggest employers and best companies?

I would have thought that every person in this House would want to see a resolution to the dispute as quickly as possible. My thoughts are with the customers of British Airways and with those who depend for their jobs on the success of British Airways and our other airlines. That is exactly why, at this point in time, I want the sides to get together and to discuss these issues—[Interruption.] The Conservative party and others may wish to laugh about this issue, but I think the important thing is the advice that I gave to the management of British Airways and to the unions, which was to take a deep breath, keep calm and keep talking about the issue. I do not think that an industrial relations dispute should be brought into the House of Commons in this way. It is our—[Interruption.]

Order. We are at a very early stage and Members must not get overexcited. They should try to keep cool and keep the noise down.

It is our desire to work, we hope, with the Conservative party and other parties so that we can reach a resolution on the issue.

One word can sum up that answer: weak. It is not advice that is required, but some leadership. Let me ask the Prime Minister this: this weekend, management and non-unionised workers will be doing everything they can to keep British airways going, so will he join me in urging Unite members to join them by crossing the picket line, going to work and getting this business moving?

This is exactly what I mean about trying to make an industrial relations issue a partisan issue in politics. What we need to do is to get the unions and the management to talk to each other. Perhaps I should report to the House that I have talked to both sides and I believe that the agreement that was near to being reached last Thursday is one that they can build on for an agreement this week. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition, instead of calling for action that would happen after a strike took place, would help us by trying to call for a resolution of the strike in the first place.

It is back to the 1970s. We have hand-wringing from a weak Prime Minister while companies go down. Let me ask him the question again. This weekend, will he join me in urging unionised workers to cross that picket line and help get this business going?

The right hon. Gentleman has come a long way from a few months ago, when The Daily Telegraph reported:

“David Cameron has launched a secret mission to win over Britain’s trade unions…The trade unions have also been asked to help draw up opposition policy, the Daily Telegraph can disclose”.

It also stated that

“party officials have met with the unions more than sixty times since the spring.”

One day they are for the unions; the next day they are against the unions. The only consistency is in their total opportunism.

Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but Government Back Benchers are simmering over. They need to calm down and keep cool heads.

Most of them are paid to shout, Mr. Speaker; that is the point.

In three years of asking the Prime Minister questions, that has got to be one of the most pathetic answers I have ever had. It is one thing to talk to the unions, but it is another to give in to them like he does. Let me ask him the question again. Does he back brave workers who want to cross a picket line and keep a business going? Does he?

I back a resolution of this dispute. The chairman of the Conservative party met the trade unions and said:

“we have been having lots of meetings with top trade union officials over the last few months…I think the old antagonisms have long gone.”

On the one hand, the Conservative party wants to attack the unions and does not want a resolution of this dispute, but on the other it wants to talk to the unions. That is complete opportunism. It should be trying to find a resolution to this dispute and should be calling on us to work with the unions and the management to do so. Anything else is likely to inflame the situation, and I hope that instead of becoming a partisan politician in this, the Leader of the Opposition, who is showing his opportunism at every moment, will start to become a statesman.

Wriggle, wriggle, wriggle. It is a simple question. It is a question of backbone, it is a question of judgment and it is a question of character. Do you back people who want to go to work—yes or no?

The right hon. Gentleman has never once said that he backs a resolution to this dispute. He has never called for management and unions to get together to resolve the dispute. I have already made my views clear about this issue, but I know that what passengers want to know and what the country wants to know is whether we can resolve this dispute. He has said nothing positive about resolving this dispute. It is the same old Tories.

This is why the right hon. Gentleman cannot lead this country—absolutely no backbone when the big tests come. He has failed the big test and we know why: because his party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Unite union. It picks the candidates, it chooses the policies, it elects the leader and it has special access to Downing street. That is why his response is so feeble. Is it not true that when the crunch comes, he can act only in the union interest, not the national interest?

Order. Members have made their views clear. Let us have a bit of quiet and hear the response from the Prime Minister.

Not once has the right hon. Gentleman asked for a resolution of this dispute. Any previous Tory Administration would be trying to resolve the dispute rather than provoke the dispute. I ask him to think again about the words that he has used. They are not calculated to end the dispute; they are calculated to provoke the dispute. I have to say to him also that on the day we are publishing unemployment figures that are coming down, showing that we have a flexible labour market in the United Kingdom, showing that we have taken the action that is necessary to get people back into work, what he has shown once again is that he has no positive policy, no substance and no programme—no wonder he talks without notes: he has nothing to say.

In the light of mother’s day 2010, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time to give women in the developing world a real present this year by further investing in maternal and reproductive health at the millennium development goal summit in September? After he is re-elected, will he use his considerable acumen to encourage colleagues in the G8 to recognise the financial value of investing in women’s health and lives?

Five hundred thousands mothers die avoidable deaths each year, but there are things that we can do—[Interruption.] I hope that the Conservatives will be prepared to listen to a concern that is expressed across the world about the levels of maternal mortality. Five hundred thousand mothers die each year. These are avoidable deaths, and this is one of the policy themes of the G8 summit. It is important that we support whatever action can be taken. We as a Government are doing more than most to try to reduce this appalling level of suffering, which can be avoided.

I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the soldier from 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, who died at Selly Oak hospital on Monday after sustaining terrible injuries in Afghanistan, and to those of the two soldiers from the same regiment who were killed just yesterday in Afghanistan, having served so bravely there.

In addition, I of course wish to add my own tribute to Dr. Ashok Kumar. He had a reputation as an absolutely first-class local MP. He was a defender of the steel industry, and spoke out on the environment before it was fashionable to do so. He always spoke out for fairness.

Charlie Whelan and Lord Ashcroft are exactly the same. One is the baron of the trade unions, and the other is the baron of Belize. Both are bankrolling political parties, and both are trying to buy—[Interruption.]

The Tories are shouting about something that happened five years ago, but I am talking about cleaning up politics right now. We need a deal on party funding, but both of the other party leaders blocked the Hayden Phillips agreement on that, so why should anyone believe a word that they have to say about party funding now?

We and the Liberal party agreed changes in political party funding in the summer, more than a year ago. It was the Conservative party that rejected the deal.

That is rewriting history. They both blocked the Hayden Phillips agreement—[Interruption.] Maybe the Prime Minister could listen to this; he might learn something. Both other party leaders blocked amendments to cap donations that we tabled to the Political Parties and Elections Bill just last year. It is just like the expenses scandals: lots of talk, and yet both of them have no desire to change anything at all.

As a result of the legislation that we have agreed on, we have made political party funding far more transparent and the conduct of elections far fairer. We have also made it a requirement that people declare in the House of Commons register of interests things that were never registered before. I cannot accept the comparison that the right hon. Gentleman makes. Lord Ashcroft lives offshore, and he is funding the Tory party without paying taxes in Britain.

Is the Prime Minister listening to the growing number of voices calling for investment, not cuts, in next week’s Budget? Does he agree that the Budget should serve not the interests of the speculators in the City of London, but those of the British people as a whole?

The Budget will be about building a stronger economy and taking forward the decisions that have taken us through the recession. In every case—on employment, mortgages and small businesses—those decisions were rejected by the Conservative party.

Q2. RBS, which is taxpayer-owned, has £700 billion less today in loans and other assets than a year ago. Where has that £700 billion gone? (322419)

I do not know all the customers of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

We have been trying to increase lending in the economy by having a range of lenders and not just one bank. We have been trying to get other banks into the business of lending. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that 300,000 small businesses have been given direct, cash flow help by the Government amounting to £5 billion over recent years. The Conservative party opposed that, but we made it possible. As a result, there are more small businesses in this country now than there were a year ago.

Q3. Norfolkline, SeaFrance and P&O Ferries have all attacked Dover Harbour Board’s proposals to sell off the port of Dover, accusing it of abuse of power and threatening legal action through the courts. The people of Dover, the seafarers and the port workers all oppose privatisation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that to sell the port of Dover would be the wrong thing? I do not expect that he will say yes to that, but does he agree that no Government would allow the sale of a port without the trust and support of the main stakeholders? (322420)

I have always seen my hon. Friend as the most effective campaigner on behalf of the people of Dover. I repeat today what I said recently: there will be no forced privatisation under Labour. We are not pressurising the port to privatise, but we must look for new options in the investment necessary for port expansion and Dover’s regeneration. Any proposals, however, would need to take account of the views of the local community and the stakeholders.

Macclesfield’s economic success has historically been based on manufacturing industry—textiles, pharmaceuticals and aerospace. Does the Prime Minister agree that manufacturing industry is one of the only sources of non-inflationary sustainable economic growth, and that if it is to be competitive and succeed in the future, it needs more regulation, particularly from Europe, and more taxation like it needs a hole in the head?

We are the sixth biggest manufacturing power in the world. We are expanding in advanced manufacturing, digitalisation and a range of new industries, including aerospace, where we are doing extremely well. It is a vital part of the hon. Gentleman’s region. Our capital allowances programme does more for manufacturing than any corporate tax cut proposed by the Conservative party, which would remove funds from manufacturing. Also, the regional development agencies and their commitment to manufacturing are vital to the future of this country, and they should not be abolished.

Q4. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that public sector investment continues in constituencies like mine, to help to bring in private sector investment and build on the 800 jobs being created by Stobart and Tesco, helped by the Northwest Regional Development Agency grant of £4 million and with the help of Halton borough council? (322421)

The growth of jobs in my hon. Friend’s constituency and the announcements that have been made are very important to the recovery of the British economy. Three hundred thousand people are leaving the unemployment register every month, and we are seeing numbers of unemployed and numbers of youth unemployed falling as a result of the action that we have taken. Those new investments by Stobart and Tesco are crucial, and we also need the regional development agency working with businesses in his region to ensure that the economic growth that the region deserves comes about.

Given that the Prime Minister will have looked closely at the tragic case, will he say whether a Downing street staffer took part in a conference call in July 2008 to discuss the suitability of Steven Purcell?

Q5. Does the Prime Minister agree that marine renewables have a big part to play in meeting our energy needs, reducing our carbon footprint and generating the jobs of the future? Will he continue to invest in that important sector? (322422)

We are talking about low-carbon jobs for the future. Marine renewables are at the centre of that, and my hon. Friend’s constituency is crucial. Once again, we are investing in the jobs of the future. We are investing in an industry policy that will create the jobs of the future. Under the Conservatives, unemployment would rise.

Q6. May I first thank you personally, Mr. Speaker, for the support that you have given me in my campaign against human trafficking? May I also thank Ministers for their backing, and the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), for his continuing support for and interest in the subject? Now for the Prime Minister. Does he realise that modern-day slavery is here in London, with some overseas diplomats exploiting and abusing modern young people, domestics principally, who have restricted work permits, which prevent them from seeking other employment? They are then forced to leave this country and are deported back to the country they started from because they cannot go to other employment. This is a tragedy both for the families and for the embassy. Will he please see that something is done, because these people are crying out for the Government to take action against modern-day slavery? (322423)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his chairmanship of the all-party group on trafficking of women and children. I welcome his proposal to set up a human trafficking foundation when he stands down from Parliament, and we thank him for the work that he has done while he has been a Member. I know that on this very tragic and very difficult issue he had a meeting with the Borders and Immigration Minister just before Christmas, and I know there is a belief that we could actually make some progress on the very issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. The Borders and Immigration Minister is considering his decision in the light of the advice he has received, and he will be in touch with the hon. Gentleman about that. I hope that we can bring a resolution to at least some of these tragic issues of human trafficking.

Q7. I lost a great friend in Dr. Ashok Kumar. He was a gentle man, a true politician and a scientist who must never be forgotten. He was a great friend of this House, and all our thoughts are with his family and his constituents.

There is a campaign called Think Jessica to develop the awareness of vulnerable people, including pensioners, who are preyed upon by scam mail. Those people are losing their life savings to scam mail, and I challenge the Prime Minister to take up the case of Think Jessica and ensure that we outlaw scam mail using American ideas. (322424)

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about Dr. Ashok Kumar, and my sympathies also go to his family, friends and constituents.

My hon. Friend has identified a very bad practice that preys on large numbers of people in this country. These are the worst rogue trading practices and scams, and as a result of action that we have taken we have uncovered an estimated £4 billion of fraud and saved an estimated £5 million for consumers. Recently, 39 organisations or people have been successfully prosecuted. The Office of Fair Trading is running an awareness campaign to alert the public to these scams, and I urge people to visit the Consumer Direct website, where there are a number of interactive online guides to dealing with those problems. But my hon. Friend is absolutely right: we must empower consumers to recognise and avoid these scams, and we must back this up with the strongest punishment.

Q8. Why should every pensioner in Britain not feel as betrayed by Labour, which has never restored the link between state pensions and earnings, as by the Tories, who abolished the link in the first place? (322425)

Because we came into office and recognised that the first problem in our country was pensioner poverty. That is why we brought in the pension credit; that is why 1 million pensioners have been taken out of poverty; and that is why women who had no industrial pensions of their own and sometimes not even a full pension themselves benefited in a way that has taken them out of poverty. They were mainly widows, mainly in their 80s. But for every pensioner we also created—on top of the pension and the other measures that we have taken—the winter fuel allowance, which goes to every pensioner family over 60 and has given additional help to pensioners over these times. I should also mention that the biggest users of the national health service are elderly people, and we have doubled the budget of the health service.

Q15. Under Labour, interest rates over the past year have been just 0.5 per cent. In the previous, Tory recession, they were 15 per cent. What impact would a thirtyfold increase in interest rates have on hard-working families paying mortgages, and on defence companies, such as Kent Periscopes in my constituency, which are looking to grow? (322432)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Unemployment is half what it was in the 1990s, when interest rates meant that mortgage repossessions were about three times what they are now; and there are more small businesses now than there were a year ago, whereas in the 1990s small businesses faced 15 per cent. interest rates and went under. The Conservatives say they are the party of change, but the only economic policy that they have is to go back to the 1980s.

Q9. When the Prime Minister last visited East Dunbartonshire, he was campaigning for my Labour predecessor at Tesco in Milngavie. Tesco now proposes a giant store in the midst of the town’s conservation area, riding roughshod over local opinion. Five years on, does the Prime Minister agree that large supermarkets such as Tesco wield too much power over our communities? (322426)

We have tried to put in money and help to renovate local shopping centres in the centres of towns, including the centres of smaller towns, but I have to say that a planning decision is not a matter for this House but one for the planning authorities.

Q10. May I take this opportunity to thank the Government for their recent series of changes to the way in which we will be dealing with asbestos-related diseases? Many of the victims will be grateful for the action that the Government have taken. Will the Prime Minister overturn the Law Lords’ decision on pleural plaques when new medical evidence becomes available to him as Prime Minister after the next election? (322427)

If medical evidence were to become available, we would obviously reassess the situation; I give my hon. Friend that assurance. At the same time, he should know that the Justice Secretary announced a range of measures which provide real benefits for people with asbestos-related disease. These include a system of fixed payments for individuals and the creation of an employers’ liability tracing office. In addition, the Government have confirmed their commitment to expand medical research in one of the most difficult areas, where lives are so often, sadly, lost. I assure my hon. Friend that if new evidence becomes available we will re-examine the situation.

Q11. Charlie Whelan was copied into all the Smeargate e-mails and was apparently part of the “forces of hell” of which the Chancellor spoke. Can the Prime Minister explain why he is now back in No. 10 advising the Prime Minister, or has the Prime Minister’s moral compass suffered the same fate as the telephone and other items beaten up in the bunker? (322428)

The hon. Gentleman had a chance to ask a question about his constituency, and to speak up for the people of Britain. Once again, the Conservatives are trying to turn an industrial relations dispute into a political football; they should be ashamed of themselves.

Speaker’s Statement

I have a very short—or relatively short—statement to make.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) raised a point of order yesterday about the statement last Thursday on high-speed rail. The statement was made first in the Lords by the Secretary of State at 11.39 am and then repeated in this House by the Minister of State at 12.17 pm. The hon. Gentleman’s point of order was not about the timing but about the fact that the text of the statement was not available until after the Minister of State had spoken in this House. As Members will know, the practice to date has been that the text of a statement is not released by the Vote Office until the Minister has sat down. These arrangements are essentially for the Government, who supply the copies of the statements to the Vote Office on condition that they will not be released in advance. I believe that there was a misunderstanding about this last Thursday.

It is inevitable, with two departmental Cabinet Ministers in the other place, that some statements will be made there before they are made in the House of Commons. However, it does seem illogical that the text of a statement already delivered in the Lords, and available from the Printed Paper Office there, is not available from the Vote Office in this House. I am therefore asking the Leader of the House to ensure that in future the text of statements made in the Lords should be available from the Vote Office as soon as they are available in the Lords.

Further to your statement, Mr. Speaker. Of course it makes absolute sense that if a statement has been given in the House of Lords, the written copy should be available in the Vote Office for Members of this House even before the statement has been made here, so we strongly support the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) and your statement. It will all be sorted.

I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House. That is precisely the sort of co-operation that any Speaker wants to achieve.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Public Administration Committee is meeting tomorrow to consider the circumstances surrounding the elevation of Lord Ashcroft. We have invited Lord Ashcroft and the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), but we have heard nothing. Is it not a terrible discourtesy to the Committee to be ignored in this way? [Interruption.]

Order. I am perfectly capable of dealing with the matter, and that is what I am about to do. The hon. Gentleman has made his point extremely clearly and placed his views on the record. He may not be satisfied with this, but I have to say to him that that is a matter exclusively for the Committee. His views are now very well known.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Thank you very much for the speedy way in which you have dealt with the issue that I raised, but is not the real reform that we need in the Palace of Westminster that Secretaries of State in the House of Lords should be obliged to come to this Chamber to make statements to the democratically elected Members and answer questions?

There was I thinking that I had satisfied the hon. Gentleman’s appetite. He is an experienced Member of this House, and he knows that that is another matter. It is an important matter, on which there has been some discussion and to which the House will doubtless in due course return. I cannot, however, say any more about it today. I hope that he will be pleased with what he has got.

Bill Presented

Dementia Strategy Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Paul Burstow presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to publish and keep under review a strategy to improve the provision of services for adults in England with dementia and their carers; to require the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the implementation of the strategy; to require local authorities, the NHS and other bodies to act in accordance with relevant guidance issued by the Secretary of State; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 April, and to be printed (Bill 90).

Organ and Tissue Donation (Mandated Choice)

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a system of mandated choice for the donation of organs and tissues; and for connected purposes.

It is a magnificent achievement that in 2008-09 there were more than 3,500 organ donations in the UK. In addition, more than 4,000 corneas were donated, leading to 2,711 people having their sight restored. Tragically, in the same year, more than 1,000 died an avoidable death while awaiting a life-saving organ transplant. I believe that we have a moral duty to reduce the number of avoidable deaths. The pertinent questions, therefore, are why we are allowing those deaths to occur and what we can do to change those sad statistics.

In a report published in January 2008, the organ donation taskforce identified several barriers that mean the UK is lagging behind other European countries when it comes to the number of transplants that take place. Further research published by NHS Blood and Transplant shows that four out of 10 families refuse the request for organ donation, even when a deceased relative has signed the organ donor register.

With just 27 per cent. of the UK population signed up to the register, the simple fact is that not enough people are saying yes to granting the gift of life through donation when they die. Surveys indicate that between 60 and 90 per cent. of the UK population support organ donation and personally want their organs to be used to save a life, so why is it that just 27 per cent. have given their explicit consent? What are the barriers, and why is that figure not nearer to the 60 to 90 per cent. mark? Do people intend to go online and register but forget to do so, or are they simply too busy? Do they even know that there is an online registration process? That line of questioning is endless.

One simple answer is that the current system needs to change. The opt-in system is voluntary and, by its nature, a barrier in itself, so the obvious question is: what are the alternatives? One is an opt-out system, whereby consent is assumed. Personal choice and the right to choose are fundamental in any personal decision. On organ donation, they should be paramount. A system that assumes consent therefore carries moral and ethical dilemmas that cannot and should not be ignored.

With an opt-out system, medical professionals treating a dying patient would be put in a difficult position. They must broach the subject with the family, who would be forced to consider the issue at what is always an emotional and traumatic time. There would be many instances when no discussion about organ donation had taken place, and the individual had not opted out. The medical professional must then approach the family to arrange organ donation in the absence of active consent by the potential donor. Inevitably, there will be circumstances in which the organs are used of an individual who opposes organ donation, but has failed to make his or her views known. Again, that raises serious ethical issues about personal choice and an individual’s right to choose whether they want their organs to be used after death.

I have worked closely with Mrs. Pat Hall from Lancashire, who has campaigned for many years to increase the number of people on the organ donor register. Pat lost her son in the early 1990s, shortly after the register came into force. He was on the register and had made his choice known to the family. He was able to help several people through organ donation. I have discussed the problem of presumed consent with Pat, and she explained that many campaigners were unhappy with it. She believes that individuals should make an active decision to donate.

Pat’s alternative is the mandated choice system, whereby every UK citizen would be required by law to make a declaration, one way or the other, about whether they wished their organs to be used after death. By offering the choice of saying yes or no, or leaving the decision to the family, a person’s civil liberties are protected. Mandated choice has been introduced in some countries, but the choice has been only between yes or no to organ donation. The Bill proposes a third choice—essentially what we have now—of leaving the decision to the family at the time of death. There is, therefore, a status quo option, which would make a difference by making it easier for people to accept the proposal.

The practicalities of a mandated choice system obviously need to be considered. Initially, every adult will need to be approached and asked to make a choice. It would then to be necessary to ensure that individuals are asked at certain points during their lives, such as when they receive a national insurance number or register with a GP, or possibly when they obtain a driving licence. When a person explicitly states their intentions, all doubts about their wishes—and thus the wishes of a dying patient—are removed. That safeguards health care professionals as they know exactly what their patient wants. It also removes the burden on the family when a relative dies.

Reforming the current opt-in system to a mandated choice system will increase the number of people registered as organ donors. By choosing to be an organ donor, we offer patients a second chance at life. I want a system that reduces the number of avoidable deaths to an absolute minimum and reduces waiting times for people who need life-saving transplants.

I am sure that we would all be prepared to accept an organ if we needed one to carry on living. If most are prepared to receive, I would expect most to be prepared to provide. Failing to reduce the number of avoidable deaths is a tragedy and, worse, a preventable tragedy. I present the Bill to introduce a mandated choice system as the best way in which to reduce the number of avoidable deaths. I hope that it will receive the support of the House.

I listened with great interest to the proposal for a mandated choice approach as outlined by the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow). I happen very much to agree with organ donation, and when I pass on, if there are any bits that are still usable, the state is perfectly welcome to them—[Interruption.] I will not be drawn by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris).

However, my concern is that mandated choice will put people under moral pressure to acquiesce, even if they do not feel comfortable doing so. I am conscious that the hon. Member for South Ribble realises how sensitive the matter is and that very strong emotions can be generated, including for reasons of faith, especially at the time of death. I applaud his intent, but it is nevertheless my view that our society and culture are still at a stage at which there is insufficient buy-in to the concept of organ donation. In some ways, we do a disservice to our society if we do not work towards increasing the number of people who actively sign up.

I do not seek to press the matter to a Division, because that would be a bad use of time; I simply flag my concern that it is easy to codify such things in an administrative way, but we have some way to go as a society. I would prefer a mandatory development of an understanding of the options, without having the paperwork to go with that at this stage.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.


That Mr. David S. Borrow, Jim Dobbin, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mr. David Crausby, Bob Spink, Dr. Brian Iddon, Derek Twigg, Mr. Mark Hendrick and Geraldine Smith present the Bill.

Mr. David S. Borrow accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 April, and to be printed (Bill 91 ).

Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [Lords]

Second Reading

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.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I think, from recollection, that the hon. Gentleman is right—

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.

What does the Minister understand to be the difference between cluster munitions and air-dropped mines?

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.

Order. It would be useful to know to whom the Minister is referring. I thought he had Mr. Cash in mind.

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.

Given that live ammunition is used on training exercises in the UK—I have been on one or two myself—I wonder whether some of these munitions could be embedded in parts of the UK. What attempts will be made to remove them and within what time scale?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to cluster submunitions that might be lying around somewhere in the UK, still waiting to explode.

I was not thinking so much about the stockpiling as about whether or not these munitions have been used for real in training exercises. I was wondering whether these things could be buried in moorlands or other areas of the UK.

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 happy to go on giving way, although this is beginning to feel more like a Committee stage than a Second Reading debate.

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.

I see that fresh horses have arrived in the Speaker’s Chair, so I hope we will be able to continue with interventions as before.

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.

The Minister mentioned NATO, which is the bedrock and cornerstone of our security policy. What discussions has he had with NATO to see whether an agreement on cluster munitions can be found for the very reasons that were mentioned earlier?

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