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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.
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?
Chris Bryant: 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.
Mr. Cash: 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!
Chris Bryant: 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.
Chris Bryant: 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.
"a munition designed to be placed... on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by... proximity",
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.
Mr. Ellwood: 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.
Chris Bryant: 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.
Mr. Lancaster: 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.
Chris Bryant: 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.
Mr. Cash: 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?
Mr. Cash: 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.
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."
Mr. Drew: 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?
Chris Bryant: 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.
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.
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.
Mr. Lancaster: 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.
Chris Bryant: 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.
Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): 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?
Chris Bryant: 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.
Dr. Murrison: 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?
Chris Bryant: 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.
Dr. Murrison: 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?
Chris Bryant: 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.
Mr. Cash: 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.
Chris Bryant: 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.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): 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.
Mr. Ellwood: 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?
Chris Bryant: 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.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): 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?
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