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Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010

Volume 724: debated on Monday 31 January 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements they have made for temporary exceptions to the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010.

My Lords, this Government have made no arrangements for temporary exceptions to the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010. Section 8 of the Act permits the Secretary of State to grant authorisation for visiting forces of states not party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions to possess cluster munitions on or transfer them through UK territory.

I thank my noble friend very much for that Answer and congratulate him on the fact that the UK was able to say that all cluster munitions had been removed from United Kingdom territory well within the deadline of December 2010. May I press just a moment further? Is the Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia part of the areas under British control? Will there be a removal of stockpiles from Diego Garcia by the target date of 2013?

I am grateful to my noble friend for the good wishes. The whole House took an active part in seeing this cluster munitions legislation on to the statute book and I think we are all very proud that it has been adhered to very closely. The United States is actually ahead of schedule and has cleared all stockpiles of cluster munitions from all UK territories, including Diego Garcia. There is no problem there. The matter has already been completed. The deadline was 2013, but we are well ahead of schedule on that operation.

My Lords, what progress are the Government making in getting other countries to sign up to the cluster munitions convention and the Dublin convention? Also, are they making progress in working out with industry a voluntary code; and, if not, in making it mandatory to prevent any British companies helping companies outside our jurisdiction to manufacture cluster munitions?

On the second point, a working group has been set up to work out the problem of remote financing to which the noble Lord rightly refers. Would he repeat his first point?

I asked what progress the Government are making in getting additional countries to sign up to the Dublin convention.

I am so sorry; the noble Lord is quite right. Of course, a number of major countries have not signed, including the US, Russia, India, China and Pakistan. We are in regular touch with them at official level and are raising the matter with them all the time. Frankly, progress is not swift, but we have not relaxed our efforts to push for a complete, global ban on those horrific weapons, and we will continue to work very hard at all levels.

My Lords, the Minister will be well aware of the menace that unexploded cluster munitions present, not least to people going about their ordinary business, trying to farm their land and live life, often in extremely difficult circumstances. Will he join many of us in the House in commending the work of the HALO Trust, which does so much to remove mines and unexploded ordnance and therefore promote not just humanitarian relief but sustainable economic development? Will he ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development why that department, which has to date funded the work of the trust in both Angola and Somaliland, has now decided that those two countries are no longer priorities for mine clearance, when clearly they are?

I will certainly check out what the noble Lord says. My understanding is that considerable funds are still used to promote the excellent and incredibly valuable work of removing those horrible weapons from various areas where they lie around. I will look at the two items raised by the noble Lord and write to him about them.

I thank my noble friend for the Answers that he gave me in December to Written Questions that I put to him on this very issue. Can he absolutely assure your Lordships that there will be no question ever again of cluster munitions being kept in British territories—offshore British territories, within coastal waters, or whatever? It may well benefit your Lordships if the records of the discussions that must have taken place to provide for the exceptions for the United States are placed in the Library so that we can see exactly what happened.

As my noble friend knows, the one exception was made very properly by the previous Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, Mr Miliband, allowing the US a temporary extension of its right to keep cluster munitions while it went through the process of getting rid of them as part of the running down of cluster munitions stores in UK territory and in the United Kingdom. That is the only exception that has ever been made. For the future, we will consider bringing to Parliament and recording any decisions that may be proposed for temporary extension, and we will do that on a case-by-case basis. I have to say that in a number of instances it could be governed and limited by security considerations.

My Lords, do we retain some cluster munitions for the right purposes of training personnel in the detection and destruction of such appalling weapons? Do we export any weapons to foreign Governments for the purposes of training their personnel in detection and destruction of those weapons; and, if so, which countries do we export to for those purposes?

In this country we have destroyed 48 per cent of all cluster munitions weapons and intend to destroy the remaining 52 per cent well within the schedule—by 2013. As for the training and technology associated with their destruction and the necessary designs of equipment to destroy them, that continues. I cannot answer the noble Baroness precisely on whether there are export clients for this technology but if there are this would be a positive area where the more information we have in the rapid destruction of these weapons and the better the training we can press round the world for their destruction, the better off we all are.