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"This Act comes into force on the day on which it is passed."
'(1) The Secretary of State shall, within six months of Royal Assent, lay before both Houses a plan for the destruction of all stockpiles of prohibited munitions held under United Kingdom jurisdiction.
The convention imposes on all states parties a duty not only to introduce a prohibition against the possession or use of cluster munitions but to destroy existing stockpiles of cluster munitions that fall under the jurisdiction and control of that state party. The new clause would impose on the Secretary of State explicitly a duty to publish a plan for the UK to destroy its existing stockpiles of cluster munitions. It would further require the Government to provide in that plan for all stockpiles to be destroyed within eight years, the time limit set by the convention. It would oblige the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on progress made or not made in adhering to the published plan.
The thing that has puzzled me about the Bill is that although there is a clear duty laid on states parties by the convention and although there is no doubt about the Government's commitment to seek to deliver on the requirement to destroy stockpiles of cluster munitions, there is no mention of that convention duty and no requirement to be imposed by law on the Secretary of State to ensure that the destruction of stockpiles is carried out. The new clause would make certain that the Government delivered on what they have promised and what, in signing the convention, they have undertaken to do.
Mr. Davey: I have great sympathy with the new clause and I hope that the Minister will explain that it is not needed. If it were needed, I would encourage the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) to push it to a vote. I suspect that it is not needed because, as I understand it, signing the convention with respect to the commitment to get rid of the stockpiles is legally binding on the Government. However, the rest of the Bill contains those items that the Government must put into domestic law to make it legally binding on others who might commit an offence, so the convention has the force of law on Her Majesty's Government. Therefore, I do not think the new clause is needed, but I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says.
"held under United Kingdom jurisdiction"
in the new clause might be better expressed as "within UK jurisdiction". Munitions are held in the British overseas territories-Diego Garcia being a good example. To say that these are held under United Kingdom jurisdiction is not correct; it is within UK jurisdiction but not held under UK jurisdiction. I do not want to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) but I want to perform my function, which is to try to elucidate. There is a problem but it can be overcome; the Minister can do that with assurances that the intentions behind the measure will be implemented.
Chris Bryant: Would that my assurances always satisfied the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). He apologised earlier for being a lawyer, but in fact he is doing us a service in this regard. I think I am right in saying that when Peter the Great visited this Parliament, he complained to the then monarch that there were far too many lawyers. So far as he knew, there were only two in his country and when he returned, he was going to execute one of them. One lawyer is fine; two is always a problem.
"held under United Kingdom jurisdiction".
The convention specifically refers to "jurisdiction and control". Not all the cluster munitions that are currently physically within our jurisdiction are under our control. I am afraid that the amendment falls on that count but, more importantly, as the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) said, it is unnecessary.
We are already obliged under article 7 of the convention, which has one of the most rigorous systems of transparency that I have seen in an international convention, to make clear what our programme is for the destruction of our stockpiles-those within our jurisdiction and under our control. I hope that nobody will doubt our intent on this, because before signing the convention a whole type of cluster munition-the HE M483A1-had been destroyed. In the month that the UK signed the convention, all types of 755 sub-munitions had been destroyed. In July last year, following the inclusion of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill in the draft legislative programme, the destruction of all CRV-7 MPSM M73 sub-munitions was completed. In total, more than 14 million sub-munitions have been destroyed so far, which was some 37 per cent. of the UK's entire stocks, so we are very confident that we will beat by a considerable margin the target period of eight years and that we will have destroyed all our stock by 2013.
Finally, I should say that new clause 1 is undesirable because if the Bill were to be thus amended, it would be required to go through a process of ping-pong with the other place. That is not, of itself, a precondition that means we should not amend the Bill, but it might be a more significant consideration at this particular point, especially given that nobody has yet really argued that this is an essential new clause.
Mark Durkan: I thank the Minister for his helpful clarification. Can he go further by assuring us that annual reports will be made to Parliament detailing the progress on decommissioning the stockpile?
Chris Bryant: Annual reports certainly will be made, because that is provided for in the article. I am therefore happy to undertake that the report that we have to make under the convention will be made available to Parliament too. Thus, I very much hope that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) will not press this new clause to a Division and will not take the approach he took to the previous amendment, which he suddenly did press to a vote.
Mr. Lidington: I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and, in particular, for the assurance that article 7 of the convention, in itself, provides a legally binding instrument to govern what the United Kingdom has to do in respect of stockpiles. In view of those assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
I hope that all hon. Members will agree that this is an important piece of legislation. Interestingly, the tone of this debate has been very different from that of any debate we would have had about such a matter a mere four, five or six years ago. Then, people would have argued much more forcefully for retaining cluster munitions as an essential tool of the trade necessary to our armed forces. The facts that have emerged over the past few years have changed people's minds: the fact that a third of those most affected by cluster munitions have been children; the fact that thousands of people are killed by these weapons not only in the process of war, but in many cases a long time after the war because cluster submunitions lie around unexploded; and the fact that at least 60 per cent. of those who have been killed or maimed were not in the field of combat but were engaged in their ordinary daily business. Those things have made many people-those of a military disposition or career, as well as those who have worked for non-governmental organisations-conscious of the fact that we needed to change how we engage with this issue.
I pay tribute to the Norwegian Government, who were key in asserting the Oslo declaration and trying to persuade everybody to come forward with the convention; to the Irish Government, who brought together the diplomatic conference in Dublin; and to our own Prime Minister, who played a specific role in brokering a deal that meant that it was possible for the convention to be agreed. As we have discussed this afternoon, the Bill has come about in large measure because of the necessity to provide legal certainty for the personnel of armed forces that have decided not to use cluster munitions who may be operating alongside personnel from countries that have not taken that decision. I very much hope that we will be able to make progress as swiftly as possible and that all countries-certainly all our allies-will sign up to and ratify the convention.
I am grateful for the work that has been done on this Bill by people in the Foreign Office, who are not often involved in introducing legislation. I am also grateful to
the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who has conducted the debate in a spirit of fair-minded probing, as of course have all hon. Members. I very much hope that we will be able to agree to give the Bill its Third Reading.
Mr. Lidington: Conservative Members are happy to welcome the Bill on to the statute book. As the Minister fairly pointed out, this debate would previously have been conducted on different terms by both his Front-Bench team and mine. There is now much greater parliamentary and public recognition of the appalling number of casualties that cluster weapons inflict, mostly on civilians and often on children. What has also changed is that our armed forces and the Ministry of Defence have felt able to accommodate a ban on cluster munitions without significantly impairing the effectiveness of our defence preparedness. The Bill's provisions to protect the position of British servicemen and women engaged on joint operations with allied countries that have yet to ratify the convention on cluster munitions are particularly important.
We currently devote a great deal of time and attention to weapons proliferation issues. We also debate the rising threat of nuclear proliferation and chemical and biological risks, the need for progress to be made in tackling the trade in small arms and the very slow progress being made towards those objectives. Therefore, it is good that this evening we are able to mark a small step towards ridding the world of at least one particularly unpleasant category of lethal weapon.
Mr. Davey: At the moment, British politics, and this place in particular, is held in low regard by the public. We are about to enter a period when partisan politics will be at their greatest, because it will be election time. This Bill and today's debate have shown this Parliament at its best and have shown how parties can work together to secure things about which people out there have campaigned. This measure is a response to the ordinary people who have written to MPs in this country-and other countries, to be fair-arguing for a change in the law in order to ban such weapons. It is a welcome move for that reason in itself.
The substance of the Bill is a fantastic development. We are leading the way. This country, working with Norway, Ireland and the 30 other countries that have now signed and ratified the convention, are leading the way to ridding the world of these appalling weapons-weapons that have caused such destruction and have served almost no military purpose. Let us be absolutely clear: all the evidence, from all the groups that have considered and studied this matter, shows that these weapons achieve almost nothing militarily. The vast majority of people who have been killed by these weapons-I have seen figures ranging from 85 to 98 per cent.-have been civilians. As the Minister rightly said, these weapons leave a legacy that lasts for years and that might still be with us for decades to come.
I hope that, having passed this legislation, Britain will now do two things. I hope that we will ensure that where our forces have used cluster munitions we take responsibility
for clearing them up and ensure that they are not left littering the farms and lands of other countries. I also hope that we will give further leadership on the convention, as many countries and friends across the world have yet to sign the convention. This Bill is a first step, and we have taken it, but we have to go further. Having listened to and read the Minister's speeches, I know that he is committed to doing just that. He has shown good leadership in wanting to use our diplomatic good offices to push that aim with our friends and allies. I hope and believe that that wish is shared across all the parties. We have a responsibility now to move on from this good legislation and to give that global leadership. I strongly support the Bill.
Mark Durkan: When the Minister opened this debate, he rightly paid tribute to the Norwegian Government's leadership in the Oslo process towards achieving the convention, which is supported by the Bill. He also acknowledged the role of the Irish Government in the diplomatic conference in Dublin. On Second Reading last week, I put on record the role in steering that conference played by Daithi O'Ceallaigh-a man who is known to many in this House as a former Irish ambassador in this city.
The Minister also rightly identified the important, decisive and positive role played in the Dublin diplomatic conference by the decisions of our Prime Minister. I know that the Prime Minister was dealing with conflicting impulses and advice from within the Government system. Various establishments had their views, as other hon. Members have reflected in their speeches, but the Prime Minister nevertheless made the positive decision to clarify the UK position and to move from the wrong side of the argument on this significant and effective convention to the right side.
It is right that we should pay tribute to all the non-governmental organisations and others who have campaigned over many years for a convention and ban, such as the Cluster Munition Coalition and the various bodies that made up that coalition. It is right to acknowledge the long-standing role played by many hon. Members, including some who will not be standing again in the election, in the long fight to extend the ban on land mines to cluster munitions-these aerial land mines, with all of their consequences. Credit for that campaign extends to Members in another place, too, who also campaigned very positively.
Back in 2008, in the build-up to the Dublin diplomatic conference, when it looked as though the British Government were going to be on the wrong side of the argument, I tabled an early-day motion along with other hon. Members of all parties. I was glad at that time that there were various YouTube video campaigns in support of that, including from SDLP Youth. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) rightly acknowledged the decisive contribution that has been made to our understanding of the issue, what Governments worldwide are committing themselves to through the wider convention, and what the House and the other place have done through this Bill.
It is right and proper that, as we come to the close of this Parliament, we can all look to the Bill as a positive reflection of the dynamics of a democracy and all the
different influences and inputs possible. It does not just reflect different interests, outlooks and motivations in this jurisdiction; it reflects and upholds the rights-in particular, the right to life-of vulnerable people in other territories. As other Members have said, cluster bombs have an impact not just in a conflict period but long afterwards, and they take a high toll on the limbs and lives of children. A very high number of women are affected, too, because it is they who go into the fields to work and into the territories to try to find water. Many people around the world are united in saying that there ought to be a law against these weapons and, finally and wisely, that is what we have.
Mr. Cash: If I have taken up a somewhat disproportionate amount of time on this Bill, I make no apology whatever for having done so-despite the deputy Chief Whip's obvious concern. We need to give proper consideration to Bills in this House, but we do not do so, and more often than not legislation that some would deem to be less important than this Bill-I happen to believe that it is very important-gets next to no consideration, because the Government programme and guillotine Bills in a totally irresponsible manner. Indeed, had some of us on the Opposition Benches not asked some pertinent questions, we would not have had answers on a number of matters.
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