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The Bill begins by setting out a clear definition of cluster munitions and relevant explosive bomblets-the prohibited munitions to which the provisions apply. To ensure that the Bill faithfully reflects the convention, these definitions are drawn directly from Article 2 of the convention, as are other definitions in the Bill. It then establishes a series of offences in relation to activity concerned with prohibited munitions. These offences are based on the prohibitions in Article 1 of the convention: to use, produce, develop, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions. As I have said, it will also be an offence to assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in these activities. The Bill establishes criminal penalties of a fine, a 14-year prison term, or both, for committing these offences. This is consistent with the penalties in the Landmines Act 1998.
However, the Bill goes on to provide defences for certain purposes which include enabling the prohibited munitions to be destroyed, and development and training in techniques for the detection, clearance or destruction of prohibited munitions or for the development of countermeasures. These defences are allowed under Article 3 of the convention. The Bill's enforcement provisions will ensure that limited numbers of cluster munitions will only ever be possessed for these permitted purposes, and under the convention's transparency reporting requirements, information will be publicly available on the number retained by the United Kingdom. This again is the case with anti-personnel mines retained for the same permitted purposes under the Ottawa convention.
The Bill also includes a defence for certain conduct during the course of military co-operation and operations with states not party to the convention. This defence will enable the UK to continue to play a full part in ongoing military operations. In doing so, it implements Article 21, which provides for such continued military engagement. As noble Lords will be aware, this provision was a vital element in allowing the United Kingdom and other countries involved in coalition operations to sign the convention. However, I reiterate that under no circumstances will any UK national ever use or produce cluster munitions. Furthermore, I can 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.
In the course of the debate on the Queen's Speech, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, while supporting the Bill, argued that it was essential that the operational capability of our Armed Forces and their safety in the battlefield are not compromised. I thank the noble Lord for raising such an important issue and would like to reassure him that this will not be the case. The operational capability requirements that were provided by cluster munitions will in the future be met by other munitions, which are still as effective but far more precise and therefore do not carry such threats to civilians.
The Bill also includes various related provisions to ensure the effectiveness of the prohibitions. These include powers to enter and search premises for prohibited munitions; powers to remove, immobilise and destroy prohibited munitions; and provisions for the production and disclosure of information necessary for the UK to fulfil its reporting requirements under the convention. Finally, the Bill includes a number of general provisions. These include safeguards on the powers of entry to ensure these powers are used appropriately; and a power to modify the Act by affirmative resolution. This power is included to allow for any future modifications potentially required by an amendment to the convention.
In addition to these prohibitions, which require legislation to implement, the convention includes a number of other positive obligations. The Government are committed to fulfilling all their obligations under the convention and I trust that I will not be imposing on your Lordships if I briefly continue to set out our position as a number of these are important issues. Under Article 3 of the convention we have an obligation to destroy the UK's stockpiles of cluster munitions. This is being taken forward. On 30 May, on the eve of adopting the convention, the MoD proactively withdrew all its cluster munitions from service and began a destruction programme. Destruction of UK stocks is now well underway, with one third of total stocks already destroyed. Noble Lords will appreciate that this is an enormous task and should not be underestimated. There were in the region of 38 million submunitions held in UK stocks; to date we have destroyed nearly 13 million. We intend that the considerable majority, if not all, of our stocks will be destroyed by 2013. This will be well before the eight-year deadline that the states parties will have under the convention.
I am aware that there has been speculation about the fate of the stockpiles of cluster munitions that other countries may have on UK territory. Last June, my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown told the House that it was his expectation that there would be no permanent stockpiles of cluster munitions on UK territory at the end of the eight-year convention deadline. This is also my firm expectation.
Once it comes into force, the convention will establish an effective framework for international co-operation on the clearance of cluster munitions' remnants and support for victims of cluster munitions. The convention obliges states parties to support other states parties that are affected by cluster munitions. The UK already has a strong record in this regard. Over the past decade, the Department for International Development has provided more than £10 million a year to clear landmines and other explosive remnants of war, including cluster munitions. This year, the department has continued with clearance in Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Laos, Lebanon, Mozambique, Somaliland and Sudan. It also provided an additional £1 million for emergency clearance in Sri Lanka, helping the safe return of the civilian population. This strong support for clearance efforts where they are most needed will continue.
The Government are also working in other ways to address the use of cluster munitions. Universalisation of the convention was raised by several noble Lords during the Queen's Speech debate. The convention obliges states parties to discourage the use of cluster munitions and encourage others to join, with the ultimate goal of universal global adherence. The Government are fully committed to a global convention and we are playing our part in supporting this important effort.
At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, I was able to speak to a number of Commonwealth Ministers as part of out efforts to achieve this goal. Forty-seven of the 53 Commonwealth states have signed the Ottawa convention, but so far only 26 have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions. We want to change that.
At CHOGM, we co-sponsored with Australia a declaration inviting non-signatories to commit to signing the convention. Several countries associated themselves with the declaration, which is a useful step in advancing adherence to the convention within the Commonwealth. I shall write to all Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, represented in London by their high commissioners, urging them to add their signatures to the convention as quickly as possible. We intend to continue working closely with these countries to assist their signature and ratification. I have met representatives from Landmine Action and the Cluster Munition Coalition, who have agreed to support these efforts.
To date, 103 countries have signed and 24 have ratified, but we know that there is a long road ahead. As was mentioned by noble Lords participating in the Queen's Speech debate, some of the major users and producers of cluster munitions have not yet joined the convention. The Government will continue vigorously to promote the convention with those states whenever it is practical.
I also put on record that, working more generally with civil society and other countries, the Government will continue to identify every opportunity to promote the convention. I hope and trust that the next important step we take will be to inform our international colleagues of the UK's successful legislation and ratification of the convention.
This Bill and the UK's subsequent ratification will send a clear, strong signal and a political message to other countries that a new standard is being established in international humanitarian law. With this legislation, the UK will again set a strong example and continue our leading role in making the world a safer and more secure place.
Lord Elton: My Lords, before I welcome the Bill, I should like to embark on the pleasant and, under the present circumstances, reassuring task of telling the Minister how very welcome she is at the Dispatch Box. If she manages to sponsor only Bills that have as many good intentions and prospective effects as this one, she will be unique in the annals of politics.
The Bill is enormously welcome here. In our own community, it is not really necessary to say why, but, as this debate will be read elsewhere, it might be worth
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On my way here, I picked up the preliminary report of Handicap International. Meticulously prepared, it is dated November 2006. Things have moved on from then, but that does not make it any the less telling. It shows, first of all, the scale of the problem. During the Vietnam War, the Americans bombed the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos next door, which was not actually in the war. The grand total of casualties in that area-not in Vietnam-by 2006 was 4,813. None of them was a military person; they were all civilians. Those figures built up after the conflict was over. From 1964 to 1973, the United States used a wide range of submunitions, resulting in estimated contamination of 20.9 million to 60.6 million submunitions. At the other end of the scale in terms of area and population, in the Lebanon, at least 4 million submunitions were delivered in July and August 2006. The average pre-conflict casualty rate, from weapons from earlier conflicts, was two per year, but the average post-2006 conflict rate at the time the report was written was two and a half per day.
I have met a number of victims of these weapons: people minus a hand, minus both arms, minus both legs or sometimes without sight. It is an appalling tragedy. None of them was a combatant. The highest number of combatants I have seen is something like 15 per cent of the total post-conflict injury. Quite a lot of them are civilian deminers, enormously brave people who defuse these horrible devices.
There is no doubt that the Bill is needed. The Minister was kind enough to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and me on our persistence in helping. However, she should realise that we have been helping an enormous international movement. I should like to recognise the work of the Cluster Munition Coalition, which was mentioned by the Minister. It consists of 350 civilian organisations in over 80 countries under the charismatic leadership of Thomas Nash, who, like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was at every conference that I went to over several years. He is enormously effective. There is also our own local Landmine Action, led very well by Simon Conway. Those names ought to go in the record. The result of all this is the Bill, which has been well described by the Minister. I believe that it is well fitted for the task for which it is intended.
I do not want to leave the subject of what has been done for the Bill without thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for his part, which was much more vigorous than mine. In particular, he was much better at socialising in the later hours of the night than I was. In this sort of campaign, that is a valuable asset, and I do not possess it.
My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever expressed reservations about the effectiveness of the Bill. The Minister dealt with them very quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will deal with this in more detail. I anticipate that he will give examples of land being sterilised for our troops by the high failure level of these munitions, which turn into landmines where they fall. That was why the American forces on the right flank in the first Gulf War arrived late on target.
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Although this is a great Bill, this is not an occasion for great long speeches from people who are in favour of it. I take great pleasure in welcoming it. I congratulate the Government on the extent to which they are already assisting in clearing up the vast number of these weapons scattered around the globe. It is an expensive and dangerous job. I thank the Minister for her efforts at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and subsequently to get further signatories to this treaty.
The one thing nagging at the back of the minds of people who are aware of what we are doing is that the major manufacturers and, hitherto, the major users of these weapons-among them the United States, Russia, Brazil, I think, and Pakistan-have not signed up to the treaty. The effect of the treaty banning the use of landmines, which is also lacking signatures of that sort, has been to render landmines a pariah weapon. Those weapons are now used only by Burma; civilised countries, if I can use that term, do not use them. I fully expect that the cluster munitions treaty will have the same effect and that in due course all countries will sign up and embark on the essential job of clearing up the lethal mess left behind. As agricultural land becomes more and more precious, so removal will become more and more urgent.
What has been started today is an important and exceedingly welcome humanitarian step, which I, for one, will support throughout. Small areas may need to be tested by amendments, although these will not necessarily be carried or even pressed. For example, I should like to discover the effectiveness of the term,
when used in Article 3 of the convention and applied to stockpiles by other countries on our territory. This is an area that we need to look at closely. However, I am well seized of the Government's good and honourable intentions in this area and am very happy to welcome the Bill.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government on taking the UK to a point where this article can go into law. I also congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Dubs-whose Bill on cluster bombs paved the way for this-Lord Elton, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Hannay, and others on their assiduous work in bringing this about. I only wish that my noble colleague Lord Garden, whose last substantive speech in this House was in the debate on cluster bombs introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on 17 May 2007, could have been here today to see this. When he and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with their impeccable military and strategic credentials, demolished any possible military case for these weapons, surely the writing had to be on the wall for the Government's support for cluster bombs.
Cluster bombs disproportionately produce civilian casualties, with all the humanitarian consequences of that. Worldwide, civilians constitute 98 per cent of all recorded cluster bomb casualties. Cluster bombs kill civilians during attack because they spread across a
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It seems to me, as others have said, that one key to the success of this campaign, led so expertly by Landmine Action, has been the argument that cluster bombs are simply not militarily effective. From accounts in the Balkans, their effectiveness seems to have been very limited; in Kosovo, 78,000 cluster bombs were used, yet only 30 major items of military equipment were thereby destroyed. Most of the UK cluster bombs were unable to penetrate the armour of the main battle tanks that had been in operation since 1970.
The campaign to ban cluster bombs was clearly right, but that did not mean it would deliver. Cluster bombs were used by the UK in Kosovo and then in Iraq, although that cannot have helped in terms of winning hearts and minds. The UK Government, I remember, were evasive about whether they were using these weapons in Iraq. Eventually they owned that they had.
A huge impetus to the banning of landmines was the action by Israel in Lebanon over the summer of 2006. For many, it gave definitive impetus to the campaign. What happened in Lebanon was controversial enough without the use of cluster bombs. Here we had a fragile state, and in the south, every day, people were killed or wounded by a previously unexploded cluster bomb. What reminder did that serve to those who resented the incursion into their territory?
Haaretz reported their use again in Gaza, but it is disputed. I note that Goldstone makes no mention of them being used by Israel in Gaza. Once again that offensive was controversial enough, and white phosphorus was clearly deemed useable. But is it the case that cluster bombs, after the outcry over Lebanon, were not used? I would be interested to know if that was the case. Does it reflect the fact that international outcry does make a difference? One has to hope so.
For some while, there were ludicrous distinctions drawn by the Government between so-called smart and dumb cluster bombs. Norwegian research and the experience in Lebanon gave the lie to those distinctions. After Lebanon, we saw the battle in the UK Government over whether they should support the convention to ban the use of cluster bombs. We saw Hilary Benn lead the way in trying to convince his colleagues in the Cabinet and especially against the force of the MoD. He deserves great credit for the pressure he brought to bear on this. Against much expectation, Gordon Brown signed up in Dublin to the convention on behalf of the UK Government. It was certainly not apparent two or three years ago that that would be the outcome, and I am delighted that we are where we are.
So what is the scale of the problem? I understand that about 75 countries hold cluster bombs. Whereas landmines were in widespread use, by all sorts of groups as well as states, this campaign came at an earlier stage, before cluster bombs were in widespread use by non-states. They were used by Hezbollah and probably used in the Balkans. But this convention is to be welcomed before these bombs are used on an even wider scale.
There are issues in this Bill that need clarification. Like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, we are concerned to ensure that others should not be able to stockpile cluster bombs on UK soil and would like to see a commitment on that rather than merely an expectation, as the Minister expressed it.
We wish to know when the UK stockpile will be destroyed and are interested to note what the Minister has said on that. How and how often will the Government report on what they are doing in this area? Can we be assured that where the UK has used cluster bombs, for example in Iraq, those are all mapped? What proportion of coalition force cluster bombs in Iraq has been destroyed? When will that task be completed? Are there any other UK cluster bombs that remain uncleared? What is the situation in the Balkans?
We welcome what the Government said in a statement yesterday about tackling indirect financing of cluster bomb production. What is the timescale for this consultation? We also ask the Opposition Front Bench to comment on their plans in this area, in case that becomes relevant.
I am glad to hear about the moves in the Commonwealth to sign up to this. What action is being taken to get other countries to sign up to the convention, and then to ratify it? I am thinking here particularly of Russia, China and the USA. What will be done about transparency, which is mentioned in the Bill, including the establishment of a possible inspection regime? What does it mean, under the Bill, to be able to hold munitions for permitted purposes? How many do the Government envisage and why? I note what the noble Baroness has said in seeking to reassure us on this, but it is not particularly precise. How do the Government intend to take forward victim assistance? What do they plan for Iraq, for example? This is a very important development in international humanitarian law and that is very welcome.
I remember saying at Second Reading on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in 2006, that I felt for the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, who was then the
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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I give this Bill a very warm welcome. It is not often that we have a debate on a Bill for which there is as much positive feeling and enthusiasm as there is today. I am delighted that the Minister is, with her first Bill, doing something so important and so widely welcomed. Even if she stays a Minister for many years, as I hope she will, I doubt if she will have a day when she will make such an important contribution to humanity as she will with this Bill. I am also grateful to her for the reassurances that she has given us about some aspects of the issue which are not necessarily contained in the Bill itself; nor need they be. As other noble Lords have said, the Bill will make an enormous difference to many people in the future, who will not lose their limbs or their lives. We have to remember, as the Minister said, how many millions of these awful weapons are still lying about, ready to trap and maim innocent civilians, long after the conflict in which they were used is over.
It is important that the Bill becomes law before the general election, partly because it will send a strong signal to other countries, and partly because, frankly, if a Bill such as this cannot get through, we will all be failing. I hope the Government's commitment is absolutely firm and that the Bill will sail through this House and the Commons and become law very quickly.
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