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22 Feb 2007 : Column 158WH—continued

22 Feb 2007 : Column 159WH

The issue has been around, as far as the Committee is concerned, for seven years. The Committee’s excellent Clerk—I warmly echo the tribute to him by the hon. Member for Kingswood—kindly produced a complete list of the Quadripartite Committee’s recommendations on trafficking and brokering. They began exactly seven years ago in February 2000. I have totted up the list of recommendations that the Clerk gave me, and we have made no less than 34 on this matter.

Every recommendation must have prompted a review with a submission to Ministers on how the Government should respond, so there must have been at least 34 reviews. The matter has been reviewed to death, and it is unnecessary to review it further. The Minister need not say so in the public domain—that would be embarrassing—but he may say it privately in the Tea Room that in his heart of hearts he knows that the Government’s answer is just a cop-out from making a decision. All the issues are on the table and the facts are known, so I appeal again to the Government to scrap the review. Ministers do not need more information. The case for accepting the Committee’s recommendations is clear-cut and overwhelming, and I hope that the Government will consider accelerating their decision, perhaps in response to this debate.

Another issue arises from a recommendation that the hon. Member for Kingswood quoted, but I have a particular angle to which he did not refer and which I hope will be helpful to the House. I want to put it on the record that I am referring to the recommendation in paragraph 158:

Our report was finalised on 19 July last year, and I am certain that had it been finalised one month later, after the invasion of Lebanon, when we used the phrase,

we would have added, “and in Lebanon.”

I want to deal as factually, dispassionately and objectively as possible with the Israeli armed forces’ use of cluster bombs in Lebanon. The facts as I know them from independent sources are as follows. The use of cluster bombs was on a truly massive scale and probably unprecedented in recent times. The United Nations produced a fact sheet in November 2006, and estimated that the number of bomblets dropped on Lebanon by the Israeli armed forces was some 4 million. The estimate excludes those that were dropped by the Israeli air force. This month, the UN produced a map showing that the total area in southern Lebanon over which the cluster bombs were sown covered a total of 2,400 sq km. The skilled statisticians in the Library tell me that that is equivalent to one and a half times the area of Greater London. It is worth reflecting on how we might react in this country if 4 million bomblets, with a known percentage failing to detonate, had been dropped in an area of the UK one and a half times that of Greater London.

Another fact that I want to put on the table comes from the UN Secretary-General’s report of September
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2006 on the implementation of the UN Security Council’s ceasefire resolution 1701. That report states that an estimated 90 per cent. of all the cluster bombs dropped in Lebanon were dropped in the 72-hour period between the date of adoption of resolution 1701 on 11 August and the ceasefire which came into effect three days later on 14 August. In other words, in that 72-hour period, with the ceasefire about to come into effect, the Israeli armed forces chose to conduct a truly massive bombardment of a large area of southern Lebanon with cluster bombs that have—I repeat—a known rate of failure of detonation.

Those cluster bombs have, as we know, resulted predictably—I would say with absolute certainty—in a significant number of civilian deaths and maimings. I have noted with interest during the past few weeks that even the US State Department has reported to Congress that the Israelis’ use of cluster bombs in the Lebanon conflict may have been in breach of agreements between the US and Israeli Governments on the use of cluster bombs. That background brings me to the UK dimension.

There is a UK dimension, because there is a commercial interface between the UK and Israel on cluster bombs. I have four questions for the Minister. I suspect that he will not be able to answer them in his response to this debate, but I hope that he will answer them in writing. I know that all Committee Members will be pleased to hear his answers.

The first question that I put to the Minister arises out of the paragraph 158 recommendation to which I have spoken in full. It is therefore on the record in full. In that recommendation, the Committee specifically asked the Government to provide examples of equipment for which they have refused to grant export licences to Israel. Their response to our request was 100 per cent. silence. I have been around long enough to become suspicious whenever Governments are silent, and I wonder whether they have anything to hide.

Why were no examples given of refusals? We know that cluster bomb components are made in the UK, and, from the answer given by the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, on 7 November 2006, that the Ministry’s stockpile contains a significant number of cluster bombs that are apparently redundant for MOD use and described as being “out of service”. I would be grateful if the Minister present told us whether there have been any requests to the Government for the exporting to Israel of components or, possibly, complete cluster bombs from the one known UK manufacturer, BAE Systems, and from the one holder of complete cluster bombs, the Ministry of Defence.

The second question that I put to the Minister arises out of another written answer given by the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, this time on 31 January 2005:

That answer is two years old. Does it still hold good or has there been any change in the period between its publication and today? Is any UK company manufacturing cluster munitions, which applies to components and to complete cluster bombs, for export?

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The third question that I put to the Minister arises out of another answer given by the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, this time on 17 November 2003. It revealed that the Ministry has a truly massive contract with Israel Military Industries to purchase ground-launch cluster bomb shells, which come to this country having been manufactured almost entirely—apart from the fuse—in Israel. The fuse and the final packaging are produced in this country.

The answer revealed also that the contract involves the import from Israel Military Industries of 30,000 cluster bomb shells. Given the use made of cluster bombs by the Israelis in Lebanon last year, do the Government still consider it appropriate to provide such financial support through contracts to the Israeli cluster bomb manufacturing industry?

My final question to the Minister arises out of the answer that the Minister for the Middle East gave in his written ministerial statement on cluster munitions on 4 December 2006. He said that

The policy question that I put to the Minister present is this: is it really going to take so long—to 2015—to withdraw dumb cluster bombs from the inventory of the British armed forces?

Those bombs, by virtue of being dumb, have no self-destruct mechanism. There is a known and apparently unavoidable rate at which bomblets do not detonate. Therefore, unless one is 100 per cent. certain that a dumb cluster bomb will land solely among one’s military enemy, one will inescapably put civilians at risk. Should not the Government, in light of what happened in Lebanon, give serious consideration to trying to accelerate to a substantially nearer date the phasing out of dumb cluster munitions by the British armed forces?

In conclusion, the Quadripartite Committee appears to be a somewhat unwieldy body, but it has proved, by the rather empirical basis on which it was set up, to be the right mechanism for discharging this Parliament’s important responsibility for scrutinising the Government of the day in the area we are considering. Though we in the Committee are not remotely complacent, and though we will consider at all times how we can improve our performance, I sincerely believe that the mechanism in place is one of the best mechanisms, possibly even the best, for the parliamentary scrutiny of arms exports by any country in the democratic world.

3.47 pm

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): I am pleased to speak in the debate, and I too pay tribute to our Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry). He manages to chair what could be considered an unwieldy Quadripartite Committee effectively, and he opened the debate with a clear analysis of the main points in our report and the issues that we want to raise. I am also grateful to our Clerk for the support that he provides.

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I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). Although I have come here with lots of bits of paper, which I shall refer to, I shall be neither as clear my hon. Friend nor as forensic in my analysis and questioning as the right hon. Gentleman. He gave an excellent speech, and I particularly endorse his questions about cluster bombs.

As a relatively new member of the Committee, I shall provide some impressions as to why my experience on it during this period has been so fascinating, interesting and important. Before I entered the Chamber, I spoke to a senior—and, to me, respected—female Member of Parliament, who, when I described what I was going to speak about, was not as clear as I might have expected in knowing of the Committee’s existence and of its work. She was impressed by the extent of what we are doing and by how fascinating it is, but that is perhaps a lesson for members of the Quadripartite Committee and for Ministers that we should talk more about what we do.

Two things have really crystallised some of the issues we raised during the past year. The first was the group of school pupils that I met from Oxford, and the other was to see the situation from the other end as one of the international monitors of the first democratic elections for 40 years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I went twice last year, and it really brought home to me some of the issues of arms trading: smuggling; the connection between brokers, business and militias; state control, or lack of it; the use of natural resources; and the complicated connections between those areas that make this such a difficult subject to get a handle on or gain control over.

I emphasise again the critical issue of brokers. We must ensure that we do something about that and bring the whole range of weapons within the process. There has been an arms embargo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many years, but that makes one realise just how important brokering is, and how important it is to include the whole range of weapons. The weapons we are talking about include small arms, Kalashnikovs and grenades—those at the smaller end of the market. If we are not dealing with that, we ought to be.

I may refer later to “Blood Diamond”, the film that has been out recently. It has had mixed reviews—some say that it is honourable, others say that it is too glib—but it highlights a lot of the issues for people who would not necessarily know about them. Leonardo DiCaprio plays, I think, an Australian who is a broker trading diamonds for guns. He turns out to be a good guy at the end, but perhaps the film will bring home to a wider public some of the issues and complications. We are not covering the way in which weapons get into countries through small-time brokers by ensuring that they are registered, or by getting some sort of grip on that process. This huge trade causes massive trauma, dislocation, death and horror to countries such as the DRC and others. The film that I have referred to is set in Sierra Leone, which has the most horrendous history of arms use in conflict and of arms coming into the country. It is essential that we extend what we are talking about to include brokering and the range of weapons covered.

On 14 February, I was heartened to read that the Secretary of State for International Development had
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said in an interview in the Financial Times that there would be a forthcoming review of the Export Control Act 2002, which would examine whether UK controls on international arms brokers who act as go-betweens in weapons deals should be extended. I welcome that review, but like my colleagues, I say that the only thing that we need to do is examine the reports and recommendations of the Quadripartite Committee. They comprise a quite sufficient review, and I hope that Ministers will take on board our recommendations, which are fairly clear.

If the Minister wants to consider something else, he can look at the December 2004 report by the all-party parliamentary group on the great lakes region, which looked at arms flows in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It highlights many of those issues, so if the Minister wants a bit more evidence than that provided by the Quadripartite Committee, he can consider it as well. I hope that Ministers will endorse our recommendations. It is critical that they do that, and it is extremely important to ensure that those issues are included in the international arms trade treaty.

I mentioned that I was very struck by meeting the school pupils from Oxford—I cannot remember the name of the school. Anyone who saw the Mark Thomas television programme would have seen a 16 or 17-year-old pupil calmly phoning up, after getting a contact through the internet, to say, “I am the finance director of this company”, then going on through a bargaining process to buy weapons. It was a chilling experience to see how easy it was for someone, who must have sounded very young on the phone, to order such awful weapons. I was slightly alarmed to see that my hon. Friend the Minister for Science and Innovation was displayed holding an horrific Chinese sting stick weapon in front of the television cameras on College green, because I thought that we may be getting him into trouble.

The programme also showed pupils in Ireland, where different controls operate on either side of the border. As I recall, it also alleged that the Republic was looking at what more it could do on arms control issues, which brings in the international dimension that we need to take on board. For me, it brought home the fact that such potential gaps in our controls exist, and I am concerned that it has taken an investigative journalist to begin probing them. I hope that the Committee’s recommendations will be taken on board by the Government, although we recognise the huge difficulties in clamping down on this horrendous trade.

I have referred to the all-party parliamentary group report on arms flows in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. I went there last year for the extremely important elections. There is now the potential for peace in one of the most conflict-stricken regions of the world—a huge country in the centre of Africa, which had six neighbouring countries traipsing over it. It was Africa’s world war, and four million people died in the civil war there. During the period in which the report was written, while the all-party group conducted research on the way in which arms flow in and out of that country, there was theoretically an arms embargo.

In the report, we see the way in which the worst of all those involved in conflict from the neighbouring
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countries traded natural resources for guns in order to get weapons into the country, which then fuelled the conflict. The report highlights a number of the ways in which brokers operate in that situation. At that point, there was a transitional Government moving towards elections, and it was highlighted that in order to have a peace process, it was essential that the international community did what it could to ensure that no more arms got into the hands of the rebels in the DRC. One of the most important things was that human rights should be at the core of all Governments’ export controls. We have recommended that that should be incorporated into the terms of reference of, and the whole philosophy behind, the international arms trade treaty. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons, who was then Foreign Secretary, welcomed the report of the all-party group and said:

The group of experts also welcomed and used the report.

When I was in the DRC for the second round of elections, I was going up on the eastern side of the Congo, from Kindu in the province of Maniema. We visited a group of women who came to welcome us with wonderful Swahili songs. Some years ago, they had been moved further and further away from where they were by conflict involving one of the rebel groups, the Mai-Mai, who had burnt them out of their homes. To get the women out of their homes, that group had used the sort of weapons that come in through the processes that I have mentioned. It had raped, pillaged, threatened and caused conflict, death and trauma.

One of the problems we had in getting the children of those women educated, as part of our international goal of getting children into education, is that they are now so far away from anywhere, with hardly any transport links, that they cannot even go to school until they are of an age where they can walk the necessary distance. That is the case partly because rebel groups had obtained arms that they used to threaten and disperse people as part of that conflict. Those things are interconnected. The report states:

Arms and ammunition are smuggled in and out, but that process is financed by businessmen. There is a connection between business, natural resources, armed militia, official militia, armies and conflict and death. It is incredibly difficult to break those links.

The way in which armed groups in neighbouring countries to the DRC were flowing in and out prevented the state from exercising control in the eastern part of the country. The report said:

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