"Anti personnel cluster warheads or other devices with many bomblets, which act through ejection of a greater number of small-calibred fragments or pellets to be prohibited for use."
Over those 36 years, the evidence has accumulated about what devastation cluster munitions have wreaked on the lives of innocent families and communities. Now 22 countries have been affected by cluster munition contamination with particular problems of unexploded ordnance in Indochina, Afghanistan, Iraq and, of course, Lebanon.
The charity Handicap International produced a report documenting more than 10,000 known civilian casualties from cluster munitions, but the charity believes that the true figure is more likely to be 10 times that. Most of the world has woken up to that, and the rest, I believe, will wake up to it. We owe a huge debt of gratitude for that fact to the work of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, which works on the international stage and in the UK through its lead partner, Landmine Action-now to be called Action on Armed Violence. They have done a fantastic job in mobilising civil society to push forward the cause both here and across the globe.
It is great that the Bill went through the House of Lords with massive cross-party support and I warmly welcome what the Opposition spokesman has said this afternoon. Now we need it to complete its legislative
passage within the next few days, to allow our country to ratify the convention as soon as possible so that we can participate as a full player at the first meeting of state parties in November.
There are a few points that my hon. Friend the Minister might like to clarify when he winds up. He has told us that our stockpiles are being destroyed, and that is very welcome, and the Government have also made it clear that foreign stockpiles of cluster munitions will be removed from the UK and its territories by 2013. Has that process started and is it the Government's intention that it should be irreversible?
Will my hon. Friend tell us a little more about what the Government are doing to promote universal adherence to the convention as per article 21? He has mentioned trying to persuade the European Union, he has mentioned our NATO partners and he has mentioned our Commonwealth partners, but what are the British Government doing to get those who have not signed up to do so as quickly as possible? Are the Government going to initiate targeted military-to-military dialogue with states that are not party to the convention?
This vital Bill is necessary to help make an historically significant convention work. This really is a major step forward for the international law on weapons treaties. It covers both functioning and malfunctioning cluster munitions and gives a clear, straightforward definition of the weapons that we are talking about. It strengthens and expands victim assistance obligations, attributes special responsibilities for the clearance of explosive remnants of war to state parties and includes a requirement to promote support for the treaty.
Notwithstanding the list that my hon. Friend the Minister gave us in his opening remarks, going back to the St. Petersberg declaration, renunciation of the right to use certain types of weaponry is still exceptional. Every time we make a decision to do so, it is an advance for civilisation.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I begin by saying that my party, as it was in the other place, is very supportive of the Bill and will support its Second Reading today. I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned for the convention on cluster munitions and for the Bill to ratify it, in particular, as has been mentioned, the Cluster Munition Coalition and Landmine Action. I also pay tribute to the work that my noble Friend Lord Garden, who sadly is no longer with us, did on this issue. If he were here today, he would be very pleased to see the progress that the Bill is making.
As we have heard, of people killed by cluster munitions, the vast majority are civilians-the various briefings that I have read give estimates of anything between 85 and 98 per cent. That figure alone makes it entirely unjustifiable to use such weapons on a war footing. The killing of civilians is always a tragedy and the record of cluster bombs in doing that means that they are just wrong-they should not be part of a responsible, civilised country's arsenal. We cannot justify weapons that end up killing civilians in such huge numbers.
Apart from the moral argument, there is the argument about counter-productivity. Increasingly in the aftermath of the conflicts in which we have been involved, securing support from the local population has been a vital part
of our operations. Our experience in recent years in both Iraq and Afghanistan has proved-if proof were needed-that the civilian deaths make it much more difficult to undertake that process of winning hearts and minds. When a country is trying to rebuild its agricultural production and economic development, the litter of cluster bombs makes it difficult to undertake basic food production, and rebuilding the infrastructure is far too much of a challenge. To be frank, it is a challenge that such countries can do without.
There is also a strong argument that cluster munitions, as well as being dangerous to civilians, are not militarily effective. I understand that 78,000 were used in Kosovo, but they destroyed only 30 major items of military equipment, so they do not exactly have a successful military record, either.
Of course, there is also the human cost of what these munitions do. I recently had the opportunity to visit Chechnya as part of a delegation with the estimable Lord Judd and the all-party group on human rights. Although that was a fascinating and perhaps somewhat depressing visit in terms of human rights, one of the high points was going to speak to the children in local schools and seeing how they are trying to rebuild the future of that country. Having said that, seeing with one's own eyes children who are amputees-who have lost limbs-as a result of the cluster munitions that were heavily used by Russia in the conflict in the 1990s brings home what a travesty they are and what a lasting impact they have. As has been said, this is not just about the killing that is done but about the maiming and the loss of limbs, which obviously have an impact throughout a person's life. That is particularly difficult to think about when children are involved.
The Minister talked about the just way of waging war. How one can have a just war is a moral dilemma we often discuss, but we have now concluded that certain types of munition and arsenal are not just and that they should not be used. Excellent progress has been made on land mines and their use internationally, which is now much reduced. I hope that that success will be repeated in the case of cluster munitions.
Jo Swinson: The hon. Gentleman corrects me-the US was seen to use it in Falluja, but Israel has also been using it in recent conflicts. We have seen in recent weeks the BBC reports about the horrendous impact in terms of birth defects that is being felt years later. The rate of birth defects in Falluja is 13 times that in Europe. The legacy of the weapons used in a conflict and their impact years later are important. Our responsibility for these weapons, which we have used in the past, was raised earlier in the debate. It is right that we take our share of responsibility for clearing up the mess that we left behind.
I welcome the Bill, although I regret that it has taken us so long to get to this stage. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) outlined the timeline of the struggle to take us to this point. The global movement for a ban on cluster munitions started in the late 1990s. The Oslo declaration of February 2007 launched the diplomatic
process that led to the cluster munitions convention's being adopted in May 2008. In December, the Government introduced the Bill. Back in 2006, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) introduced a private Member's Bill on the issue, but unfortunately the Government did not support it. As has been mentioned, Lords Dubs and Elton also introduce a private Member's Bill in the other place in 2006. Again, the Government did not support it.
Sadly, it has not been easy to get the Government on side. In the past, the Government have argued that there is a difference between smart and dumb cluster munitions and that they should be allowed to keep the smart ones. I remember sitting here in Question Time listening to Ministers defend smart cluster munitions. They argued that smart cluster munitions had a high success rate-but even those killed civilians indiscriminately. I am glad that the Government have finally, belatedly, accepted that the right thing to do is to ban all of them.
I am sure that all Members hope that the Bill will be passed without undue delay, because this November we have the first meeting of the states parties to the convention, and ratification will give us greater influence in encouraging other states to do so. I am pleased to hear of the progress that has already been made on destroying the UK's stockpiles of cluster munitions, with 30 million already having been destroyed. However, I have a few questions about the Bill to which I hope the Minister will respond when he sums up the debate.
First, on the stockpiling of cluster munitions on UK territory, as per article 3 of the convention, the Minister has said today that all cluster munitions will be removed from UK territory by 2013. However, Lord Malloch-Brown used slightly different wording in the past, which was repeated by Baroness Kinnock in December, when she said that, eight years after ratification,
"there would be no permanent stockpiles of cluster munitions on UK territory".-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 8 December 2009; Vol. 715, c. 995.]
As has already been noted, that is not in the Bill, and I am interested to know why. I want to challenge the Minister on whether the expectation that stockpiles will have been removed after eight years represents a firm commitment. I should also like to know about the use of the word "permanent". I understand that the Bill prohibits the transfer of cluster munitions, so we would not expect there to be any non-permanent stockpiles either.
"States Parties are required to destroy all stockpiles of cluster munitions under their 'jurisdiction and control'."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 8 December 2009; Vol. 715, c. 1020.]
She also said that US stockpiles on UK territory are under UK jurisdiction, but not control. I am keen to know from the Minister whether the "and" in "jurisdiction and control" means "and/or" or simply "and". The US is ultimately responsible for those stockpiles, but does not the UK also have responsibility for ensuring that they are not stored on our territory? Furthermore, we have to make the point that the US Department of Defence has not always been entirely forthcoming in
divulging details of its activities on that island. How do the Government plan to ensure that the US will comply with the law, in order to ensure that we meet our international obligations?
On Second Reading in the House of Lords, Baroness Kinnock said that she would speak to her colleagues in the Government about possible verification procedures. That is important if we are to have confidence that we are not simply putting a bit of legislation on the statute book, but passing a Bill that will be meaningful and will lead to the destruction of stockpiles. Verification is very important in that regard.
Clause 9 relates to article 21 of the convention, on interoperability, which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) mentioned. The clause will allow UK armed forces to participate in military actions in coalitions alongside states that are not party to the convention. As we have heard, those states include the US, Russia, Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and Israel. Clearly, it is important to protect members of UK's armed forces in cases where they inevitably have to work with states that, unfortunately, still choose to deploy cluster munitions.
"reassure the House that, in compliance with the convention, no UK national will request the use of cluster munitions when the decision to do so is within their exclusive control."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 8 December 2009; Vol. 715, c. 994.]
I understand that guidelines will be drawn up for our armed forces to set out clearly how that is to be understood and operationalised, but will the Minister provide further clarification? Obviously, we do not want our service personnel to be in a difficult legal position when they are in the heat of battle, but neither do we want a situation in which the British armed forces can do everything but pull the trigger, so to speak, when cluster munitions are used in joint operations. I hope that the Minister will assure the House today that all coalition partners will be urged, at the strategic planning stage, not to put UK nationals in the position of having to request the use of cluster munitions, even when the decision to do so is not within their exclusive control.
On ratification by other states, I understand that in December the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote to all Commonwealth Foreign Ministers to urge them to sign the convention. It would be helpful to have an update on what responses have been received so far.
On indirect financing, I understand that the convention does not mention financing, but that the Government are taking measures to prevent the financing of the development and production of cluster munitions, and I welcome the Bill's provisions to prohibit such direct financing. The Government have also announced measures to prevent indirect financing, as was outlined in the statement of 7 December 2009. I welcome the commitment to pursue that approach, albeit not through the Bill but through a voluntary code of practice for business. Clearly, this is a complex issue and thorough consultation is needed to find the best way of preventing such indirect financing. I am pleased that the Government have said that they would not rule out introducing legislation to enforce a voluntary agreement if that were deemed necessary. The Liberal Democrats would certainly be prepared to consider further legislation, and I hope that if that were deemed necessary it would also have cross-party support.
The Bill is a good one, doing something wholly positive that will help not only to save lives abroad, but to prevent horrendous maimings. The impact will come partly from the fact that the UK will not use cluster munitions and partly from the important role that we can play globally in encouraging other states to change, too. The Minister has mentioned that seven EU member states and 26 Commonwealth countries have not ratified the convention. I hope that our influence will be used to reduce those numbers and to get more states signing up to and ratifying it. Of course, it is also regrettable that key countries such as the United States have not yet agreed to the convention. It is unfortunate that, despite our special relationship, we have not been able to convince the US to act with responsibility as a major military power in the world.
I shall support the Bill's Second Reading. I hope very much that we can pass the Bill before the general election, and that, given the cross-party support for it, the UK will, whatever the outcome of the election, play a leading role internationally in getting rid of these vile and indiscriminate weapons for good.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): I strongly support the Bill, and I hope that the House will not need to divide on it, but I intend to be in my place at the end of the debate to say aye. I feel very passionately about this issue, which has engaged me since I was a child, as I shall explain.
On 10 July 1998, I stood at the Dispatch Box as a defence spokesman for the Opposition to throw our weight behind the Bill that became the Landmines Act 1998. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who was then the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, and I welcomed the signing of the Oslo treaty and pointed out that it was weakened by the absence of signatories from the major land mine manufacturers such as China, Russia and Pakistan. We recognised that mines had a military purpose and that we had to encourage the development of alternatives, but we thought we could achieve the objective without the appalling risk to civilians. I pointed out that we were used to seeing on our television screens the devastating effect of the horrors of war in far-off lands. We had recently seen the amazing pictures of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Angola that gave such huge global momentum to the cause of the International Committee of the Red Cross. I welcomed the Government's resourcing of mine clearance operations either directly or through agencies such as the HALO Trust, which had become familiar to my family because a distinguished nephew of mine, after serving in the Gulf war in the Coldstream Guards, had worked for the trust de-mining in Afghanistan and Angola. Indeed, he prepared the "minefield" in which Diana, Princess of Wales, was seen by the world.
I am very realistic about this issue. Representing a military constituency such as Salisbury, I understand why our servicemen and women continue to feel that there is a need for all sorts of horrendous battlefield weapons, whether for battlefield protection or for a more aggressive purpose. However, they are the same people who are so motivated and brave when they put their lives at risk in de-mining operations both during their service and after they have retired. I immediately
salute my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), who has risked his life on numerous occasions, particularly in Bosnia, for the protection of others, and especially of children.
By introducing this Bill we are giving our armed forces a problem. I listen with attention to my constituents in all military services, because opinion is divided in military circles about whether cluster munitions-or, indeed, land mines before them-should be banned in the way proposed. When the then Secretary of State introduced the Second Reading of the Landmines Bill on 10 July 1998, he pointed out that it was not the end of the matter, and that that day was the beginning of a new era. How right he was: this Bill is a natural consequence of the Landmines Bill. We made a start then, and we are taking a further step today, but we should never forget that there are other issues. I suggest that this House will return to them in the not too distant future, long after I have shuffled off the Westminster stage at the next election. We will have to face up to matters such as white phosphorous, depleted uranium and other particularly aggressive forms of munitions.
War represents the failure of politics and diplomacy. If we go back to the days of Plato, we find that he addressed the philosophical basis of war in "The Republic". If I may summarise, he said that the point of war was to secure a better peace. That is exactly what this Bill is all about, so many hundreds of years later. Schedule 1 deals with definitions, and a number of hon. Members have mentioned how difficult it is to define exactly what we mean. Was a multiple rocket launcher used? If not, what other kind of delivery was used? Did the munition fall from the air, or was it on the ground? Where did it fall, and how? Those are important questions, and we shall have to look at them in Committee. For example, we will have to discover the extent of this seamless robe, because in the end we are talking about the impact on human beings, particularly civilians. Does a cluster munition become, by definition, a mine when it has been lying on the ground for some time and is triggered by a child stepping on it or playing with it in some form or another? Or does it not become so defined? These are issues that we will leave for Committee.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) referred to the question of far-off lands, saying that if mines exploded around our shores or in our country there would be immediate public outrage and very swift action indeed. Well, I can tell the House that that has happened in our land. I was there, and I want to pass on, for those who will be here long after I have gone, what happens in those circumstances.
On Friday 13 May 1955, when I was 10 years old, I was on Swanage beach in Dorset with some 20 other children of about the same age. We were doing what children on a beach on a Friday afternoon in May do-building sandcastles, digging holes in the sand, making dams and so on. I was building my castle with a chap called Richard Dunstan: five of my friends were digging holes, and then one of them found a tin. He thought that it was Spam, or something really exotic-yes, Spam was exotic in 1955. He was wrestling to move it, because it was lodged between two rocks. He got out a shoehorn but could not break the tin open. The boys stood back, and were seen throwing things at it.