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Cluster Munitions

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking, either directly or with their international partners, to help the Governments of Serbia and Lebanon to locate and clear cluster bombs and cluster munitions on their respective territories.

My Lords, the United Nations estimates that there are around 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets in southern Lebanon. The United Kingdom has provided £2.7 million to help with the clean-up. In Serbia, NATO, with UK support, is co-ordinating target data from the 1999 campaign to help to locate and clear unexploded cluster bomblets. The United Kingdom has also contributed £86,000 to the Serbian Mine Action Centre for equipment to assist with clearance work.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for a most encouraging Answer. I have two questions. First, is the NATO information now actually being made available to Serbia? When I was at a conference in Oslo recently people were complaining that they did not have that information. Secondly, will the Government use their influence with the Government of Israel to persuade them to provide information about bomb co-ordinates for the mine-clearers in the Lebanon?

My Lords, I shall start with my noble friend’s first question. We have supported the efforts that NATO is making in co-ordinating target data. I shall check that those data have now been passed over. We have of course urged the Israelis to give the United Nations detailed maps and other help in locating cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance in the Lebanon. We shall continue to press for that to happen.

My Lords, what proposals will the Government be offering to the expert-led review that was announced at the Geneva meeting in December?

My Lords, we have a number of officials who have been involved in that process. They will be involved in the follow-up meetings to the Geneva meeting. The particular advice that we shall give will depend on the nature of those meetings and the kind of information requested. After the meetings have been held I shall be happy to write to the noble Baroness and tell her what issues have been discussed.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that these two bad cases show how wise the Government were to ban the use of dumb cluster weapons on any future occasion? What plans do the Government have to proceed with the commitment that they have now entered into to work for a worldwide convention banning these weapons?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for recognising that the Government have made some progress on these issues. On how we take discussions forward, there are two parallel processes. There is the process through the United Nations—because, of course, it is very important that this is done multilaterally so that all the countries with these weapons take these issues on board. But there is also a parallel process being spearheaded by the Norwegians, in which we are also involved, which seeks to put pressure on the UN process. It has been made clear—and the UN Secretary-General has agreed with this—that these are complementary processes that can reinforce each other.

My Lords, in respect of Serbia, the United Kingdom should have detailed information about the cluster munitions that were expelled from the BL755 weapons used during the conflict over Kosovo in 1999. I was in that case surprised by the Written Answer provided by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on 10 January, in which he was unaware of “detailed information” on BL755 cluster munitions strikes. Does the Ministry of Defence have the information to provide to NATO to provide to Serbia, as the Minister has suggested?

My Lords, my understanding is that we have passed over information with respect to our own role in this process, but if in some way that is incorrect I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord to clarify that.

My Lords, I endorse what the noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches said. At a recent conference that I attended this issue arose and a recently retired American general assured everybody that the information had been passed to the Serbians some time ago. There is real confusion about this, not about whether the information went from the various armed forces to the authorities in NATO but whether it was passed from NATO to the Serbians. I should be most grateful if the noble Baroness would be kind enough to look at this further and put an answer in the Library.

My Lords, I shall be happy to do that. I was not aware of the confusion until answering the Question at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. I shall clarify the position and I am very happy to put a letter in the Library.

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that many of us involved in the campaign against cluster munitions are enormously grateful that the Government have banned dumb munitions. As has been said, we very much hope that this will become the subject of an international treaty before too long. The only other question remaining, which I am sure my noble friend does not want to answer now, is whether the smart bombs are smart enough.

My Lords, I received a very detailed briefing on these issues yesterday. My understanding is that the United Kingdom has its own definitions of what are called dumb bombs and what are called smart bombs. I do not think that the House would want to hear my explanation of the difference between those two things, but I assure my noble friend that we fully intend that anything we do falls within our international humanitarian obligations. It is very important that we carry our partners with us in this work.