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12.47 pm

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): 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.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): 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?

Chris Bryant: 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.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): 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.

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Chris Bryant: 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.

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Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): 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?

Chris Bryant: 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.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): 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?

Chris Bryant: 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.

Mr. Ellwood rose-

Bob Spink rose-

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con) rose-

Chris Bryant: I have a choice, but I will give way first to the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison).

Dr. Murrison: 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.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman has made the point as well as I could, so I need not elucidate.

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Mr. Ellwood: 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?

Chris Bryant: 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.

Mr. Ellwood: 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.

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

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Which hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Speaker: 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.

Chris Bryant: I shall now give way to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink).

Bob Spink: 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?

Chris Bryant: 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.

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Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): 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?

Chris Bryant: 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

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.

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

Chris Bryant: 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
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result in a degree of legal uncertainty when dealing with other countries that are also signatories to, and have ratified, the convention.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): 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.

Chris Bryant: 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.

Mr. Cash: 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?

Chris Bryant: 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.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): 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?

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