Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

My involvement with this issue stems back many years to the campaign against anti-personnel landmines when I was at the Refugee Council. I learnt then at first hand what weapons of this sort can do and the harm that they can cause. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He and I have worked together on this, and many other Members of this House have been helpful and supportive. The late Lord Garden was a stalwart figure in the campaign and there were so many others that I cannot mention them all. I join in thanking Landmine Action, led then by Simon Conway, for the work that it did and the help that it gave us; and the Cluster Munition Coalition, of which Thomas Nash was a prominent member.

I also remember the occasion when a number of us went to see not one Secretary of State but three. We got to talk to the Secretary of State for Defence, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development and the Foreign Secretary. We got them in one meeting and pushed them very hard on the issue. I also express my thanks to officials from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, who have been consistently helpful in this. I met some of them only last week and had a very useful discussion with them as a preliminary to today's debate.

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1002

It would be wrong to leave out two other names. One is John Duncan, who was our ambassador in Geneva and took the lead for this country in the negotiations at the various meetings, including in Dublin. He was very open, explained what was going on and was generally very helpful. I also thank Norwegian People's Aid which, although it is an NGO in another country, has been very much in the lead in this matter, has put a lot of effort into it and has been very supportive to many other NGOs the world over.

In south Lebanon a few months after the 2006 conflict, I watched 20 or more United Nations teams-quite a few of them were British-clearing the remnants of cluster munitions from olive groves, farmland and villages. I saw them blow up one weapon. One could see the weapons-they were taped off at this point, so there was no danger of my stepping on them-lying in the soft earth, ready to explode if anybody, by some mischance, stepped on them.

One of the key issues that we often discussed, including when I raised this matter in a Private Member's Bill some time ago, was the failure rate. We had interesting technical discussions on how many of the bomblets coming from a cluster bomb did not explode when they hit the ground. The Government's then view was that the failure rate was less than 1 per cent, but we had evidence that it could be as high as 10 per cent. If one tests these weapons on hard concrete, they will go off, but normally they fall on soft earth in olive groves and agricultural land, where their fall is slowed down by trees and other plants. That is why the failure rate is much higher than was originally suggested. I am glad that argument was dismissed a long time ago.

I attended various meetings in Vienna, Dublin, and in Oslo when our Foreign Secretary signed the measure. When some of the key decisions were made in Dublin, it was very clear that the British Government's view was considered to be important. Admittedly, the Government did not agree to sign up to the measure until partway through the discussions, and there were some tense moments when we wondered whether things would work out all right, but they did. Our negotiators got the message from London and the British Government agreed to sign. That had an influential effect on some of the wavering countries that were not certain what to do. When they saw that the British Government had signed up, they said, "If the Brits can do it, so can we". That had a knock-on effect on quite a few of the countries that were present in Dublin, although not on all of them. The situation was touch and go, but eventually it worked out well.

I fully appreciate that there are difficulties. After all, we are members of NATO, and not all members, including the United States, have signed up. When the Dublin convention was agreed, and then signed up to in Oslo, it was understood that some compromises would have to be made as the price of getting a ban through. I appreciate that some countries have not yet signed up, but as with the Ottawa convention on anti-personnel landmines, the fact that so many countries signed up deterred others from using those weapons. Similarly, the fact that so many countries have signed up to the convention on cluster munitions means that at least some users-but not all-will be deterred from

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1003

using them. Sadly, in the conflict in south Georgia some 18 months ago, they were used by both sides. Nevertheless, I believe that the fact that so many countries have signed up will have an important influence on the others. I very much hope that the Government will use their influence-I think that the Minister said this-to persuade other countries in the Commonwealth and outside to sign up. The United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel and one or two European countries have not signed up, but I believe that, in the main, the future is with us, and that they will realise that they should sign up.

I welcome the fact that so many of our stocks-up to a third-have already been got rid of. Initially, I thought that it was simply a matter of blowing them up. However, I was assured by military experts that it is not as simple as that. They tell me that it is difficult to minimise pollution and other unfortunate consequences, and that therefore it is a painfully long task to dismantle these weapons. The fact that we have got rid of 13 million out of 38 million of these weapons is a tribute to the Government's will to get on with that task. Good progress has been made, which I welcome. All I ask of the Minister is for the Government to keep us informed as progress is made in getting rid of more of our weapons and of other stockpiles on British soil, and in persuading other countries to do as we have done.

3.55 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, it is a great pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Dubs, whose contributions to this day have already been praised, not just today but in the Queen's Speech. It has been a privilege to work with them and to contribute perhaps a slightly different slant, as I am a former practitioner who was converted from protagonist to antagonist or proponent to opponent-whichever is the right terminology.

Previously, I reminded the House that these weapons were designed for a completely different type of war situation than that which we currently face. They were specifically designed to counter a mass attack by the Warsaw Pact when we were not only outnumbered but outweaponed. Therefore, a weapon which could deliver a mass effect at a fairly short price was to be welcomed. We welcomed not only the fact that the missiles could be fired by shells, but particularly the top-attack weapon, which was able to take the soft engine plates of tanks, which were the most vulnerable parts, quite apart from what was meant to be an airfield attack weapon. I favoured those weapons because, like most of my military generation, I spent a long time in Germany preparing and training for what, thankfully, never happened.

However, in my last appointment there I was commander of the 3rd Armoured Division, which was the first division to be given a counterattack role during the whole time that we had been in Germany since the war. This was because we had a new tactic which used ground in a different way. Rather than just sitting and defending it nationally, you used it to attack. When I was forced to try to plan quick shock action, I found that it was inhibited by what we had

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1004

put on the ground, particularly the cluster munitions-no one knew where they had gone-because they could rapidly destroy any momentum that we wanted to develop. It therefore seemed to me that in that sort of tactic, before the end of the Cold War, cluster munitions were of limited military use if we wanted to both attack and defend.

Then the first Gulf War came. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the problems of movement on the right flank, but there was also a complete failure to attack Iraqi airfields. Therefore, cluster munitions proved to be militarily inefficient. Indeed, the Iraqis knew that and used to put blobs of sand on the runway, which we took photographs of and assumed that they represented craters from cluster munitions. They did not. The Iraqis had worked out the pattern; the things had bounced off the runway and the Iraqis confused us.

After retiring from the Army, when I joined a private security firm involved in post-conflict reconstruction-particularly demining-I came across first-hand the problem of the relics left for future generations by the vast numbers of munitions which lay around in various countries. We came up with the slogan: "there is no development without demining". Demining actually meant clearing away all the detritus of the battlefield. The weapons that were most difficult and caused the most residual problems were the small cluster munitions, because no one knew where they were and there was a huge failure rate. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned, it takes time to clear these things, because you have to go over the ground with a piece of wire to poke and find individual munitions, or you use dogs. There is no mechanical way of clearing them. Therefore, our generation, which employed these things, has stored up a potential threat to life and limb for many innocent people in future generations, and it seems that it is our duty not only to ban their further use but to make every possible effort to clear up the mess that has been created in all the countries that have already been mentioned.

I fully respect the view expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that there is a need to look after the defensive or other requirements of the Armed Forces, but we are now involved in a rather different type of warfare. These weapons cannot possibly be used in asymmetric warfare or war among the people. When I went to Afghanistan last year, I made a point of asking the military not whether they would have used the M85, which is a shell and a gun, but whether they would have used the M73, which is a helicopter-fired weapon. They said, "On no account. There is no situation that we have come across where this would have been a useful weapon. We are not faced with that sort of mass, and of course we want to use the ground afterwards, as do the Afghan people". Therefore, the military cannot see a use for these weapons in that sort of conflict, and I should have thought that that was a voice worth listening to.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, quoted an earlier speech of mine. In 2007, a new counterinsurgency manual was published in America, and it is most important because it marks a total change in the American way of waging war. Instead of using

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1005

overwhelming force, it looks at the needs of the people first. A very important excerpt from this manual endorses the line that I took in 2007:

"The fact or perception of civilian deaths at the hands of their nominal protectors can change popular attitudes from neutrality to anger and active opposition. Civilian deaths create an extended family of enemies-new insurgent recruits or informants-and erode support for the host nation. Counterinsurgents must therefore be strategic in applying force and sensitive to its second-order political and military effects".

To my mind, nothing could be more telling than that last sentence, and I believe that it should be on the desk of anyone, political or military, who is responsible for planning any involvement in counterinsurgency operations.

Therefore, I welcome the Bill. I realise that there may be a certain amount of tidying up to do but it is nothing more than that and, like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I hope that it gets through. I am concerned about protecting the legal position of the military involved in any operation fighting alongside people who may not, for example, have signed up to the convention. I am interested to see that Clause 9 has two separate parts which refer to operation and co-operation. I do not know many military operations that do not involve co-operation with someone else and I hope that this will not be a problem.

I particularly welcome the fact that we are being taken through the Bill by the noble Baroness the Minister, who has a track record on this issue, and I look forward to playing my part in seeing the legislation through to a speedy conclusion.

4.03 pm

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, no one can be in any doubt that the Bill will be universally welcomed by this House. I am delighted that Her Majesty's Government have expressed their determination to see it pass swiftly into statute in time for the UK to become a state party to the CCM ahead of the first meeting of states parties in November next year.

Having followed the genesis of the Bill since the whole idea was first championed by the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Elton, I am delighted that we have reached the exodus and are at the point where movement is to take place. We now agree on the pernicious and tragic consequences of cluster munitions for civilians, and it is very good that Her Majesty's Government have been persuaded that these weapons are agreed to be unnecessary militarily-it is a changed world, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has just told us-and to see the energy with which the Minister is ready to carry through these aspirations into the detail of the legislation. It was not always so, but our leadership in the world community seems to me to be very important. People will be shamed into signing up-I hope and pray-as this passes rapidly into legislation.

However, there are one or two areas to which I draw the Minister's attention. First, we want her reassurance that either they will be dealt with in Committee or will be put into some kind of code of practice, which may be more persuasive when we come to parley with other nations which are perhaps more reluctant to sign up in

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1006

the future. That includes our relationship with states which are not party to the CCM, and in particular to provisions that seek to interpret Article 21 of the CCM permitting member states to engage in military co-operation with non-members. The Bill's provisions could be interpreted as a wide loophole allowing UK forces knowingly to assist states which are not party to the CCM with prohibited acts, and allowing indefinite foreign stockpiling of cluster munitions. In Committee, the Minister will probably tell us that this will be covered in detail in legislation, but I should be grateful for that reassurance.

Secondly, I refer to military co-operation. I hope that the Government can provide assurances that nothing in the Bill is intended to allow a member of the UK Armed Forces knowingly to undertake any act that would assist with a prohibited act and that the Government will do all they can to prevent the use of cluster munitions in any operation in which the UK is involved, in accordance with Article 21 of the CCM. That seems to be another matter that is probably overshadowed in the Bill in the general terms in which it is couched but we want to see the detail in Committee.

Thirdly, there is the matter of stockpiling. As the Minister has already mentioned, in June the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, said:

"The reading of the treaty indicates that there are overriding political reasons to expect that there will be no such weapons on British territory at the end of that eight-year period. That includes other people's bases situated on our territory ... even a country such as the US, were it not a signatory, would no longer be able to keep such weapons on UK territory".-[Official Report, 3/6/09; cols.79-80.]

That is another matter we want to see in the small print of the legislation at the next stage.

Another concern relates to the compatibility with the UK Export Control Order 2008-in particular regarding transhipment and provision of ancillary services, including investment in cluster munition producing companies. Close to Salisbury is a large and slightly discreet factory-it is in the middle of Salisbury Plain-that ostensibly produces fireworks for display. It is possible that that kind of activity could also include the manufacture of other devices. How, in a more tightly regulated world, will all these apparently collateral and perhaps even extraneous companies in which people can make money be regulated or monitored to ensure that there is no production of devices that could fall under either cluster munitions or any other kind of undesirable and banned devices?

A number of key provisions are shadowed in what the Minister expects to be the way in which the Bill will operate, such as the prohibition on investment in companies producing cluster munitions, notification of non-party states of UK obligations, victim assistance, clearance, stockpile destruction and comprehensive reporting. Might an amendment be made to Clause 2 to include a comprehensive prohibition on investment in, or provision of, financial services to any company involved in the production of cluster munitions? Ireland and Luxembourg have both taken this step, and Section 4 of the Irish legislation provides a potential textual point of reference.

Finally, the Bill does not include any of the positive obligations enshrined in the CCM. Although such an omission is not unusual in UK legislation when

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1007

international treaties are implemented, certain points may be useful to include via amendments, such as the following: a requirement for the Secretary of State to table in Parliament the transparency reports required under Article 7 of the CCM, which could be included as an amendment to Clause 20; a requirement for the Secretary of State to,

as per CCM Article 5.1; and an amendment to Clause 9, noting that the Secretary of State,

the CCM-


I do not know whether we will come to that in the detailed discussion of the Bill, but I make these comments at this stage so that when it comes before us in Committee and the amendments are marshalled, we can find the quickest route to legislative agreement. Like other noble Lords, I think that it is enormously important that we get this in place quickly. It is a matter on which we are all agreed, and we must ensure that we have as comprehensive coverage in the Bill as we possibly can of these seemingly peripheral but quite important matters.

I hope that the convention will be ratified in time for the first meeting of the states parties in November 2010, but as watertightly as possible, because otherwise it will be less persuasive internationally. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about how people may catch the drift of what we are doing and feel almost shamed into signing too. That will be greatly strengthened if the Bill is as comprehensive as possible. Meanwhile, I am delighted to give my wholehearted support to the thrust of the way in which the House is responding to the Minister's drafts.

4.12 pm

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, this is a Bill to welcome unreservedly and speed on its way. When I preceded my noble friend Lord Dubs as Lords vice-chair of the all-party group aimed at banning cluster bombs, we thought that it would be very tough to get a ban in force. That was despite the clear view of experienced and distinguished members of the Armed Forces that those cruel weapons have no place in the kind of war that we wage now. It was despite the unforgettable evidence of my own eyes in Laos of so many children and young people limping or dragging themselves around to beg for a living as a result of mutilation by cluster bombs dropped by the Americans. It will be tough, we thought, simply because it is hard to get Governments or departments to change their mind.

The vigorous campaigning of my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and others has had a powerful effect. There has been another very powerful factor: the personal support of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Government and the Ministry of Defence ave changed their mind, and we should congratulate them on that.

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1008

The Bill could go a bit further in a few respects. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that it could prohibit services ancillary to furnishing or manufacturing cluster munitions, such as financial services, and it could require more specific data on victims to be collected and produced than is envisaged in Clause 20. I appreciate that my noble friend the Minister has just told us of movement in this direction, which is excellent, but I hope that we can go further. We need to make quite sure that we are not part of another nation's activity in using cluster munitions. Instead, we should be urging states that are not yet party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions to join it. My noble friend has given us an assurance of that.

I am also puzzled why the Attorney-General's consent is required for prosecution. Similar statutes do not require it. The OECD convention against bribery will be implemented in UK law by the Bribery Bill. That does not require it either.

These and other points can be discussed in Committee. But the best approach to this Bill is to get it passed so that we can ratify the convention in time to play an influential part in the first meeting of the states parties in a year's time. Only in that way can we make a real start in ridding the world of these terrible, cruel weapons.

4.14 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I am delighted that our Government have decided to sign the convention outlawing the use of cluster bombs. I was among those who opposed their use, but the Members of this House who have been most active in the campaign against their use are my noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Lord, Lord Elton. They are to be congratulated on the way in which they continually pressed for the Government to sign up to cluster bombs being banned.

Cluster bombs are anti-personnel weapons that continue to threaten civilian populations long after wars have terminated. They were used in the Kosovo conflict when NATO used them against the population of the town of Nis, when 20 people are said to have been killed and more than 70 injured. Surdulica was also hit with a similar number of casualties. Furthermore, cluster bombs have been used in Afghanistan, in Iraq and by Israel in the conflict in Lebanon.

There were protests at the time. Many of us felt that the use of these munitions was bound to result in civilian deaths and injuries as well as continuing problems for civilian populations when the conflicts were over. The Government at first contended that the use of these weapons was a military necessity. Then the Government acknowledged that while the bombs could leave a dangerous legacy for civilians, this was more true for so-called dumb munitions, which eventually the Government agreed should be banned while retaining smart bombs, which were alleged to be less of a threat to civilian populations. The Government have now moved from there and have adopted a position in opposition to both smart and dumb bombs. This is a change I very much welcome.

However, the previous usage in the conflicts to which I have referred had been undertaken not just by our forces but by NATO. Since many of the conflicts in which we are likely to be involved are probably to be

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1009

led by NATO, it is important to be clear that the ban envisaged in the Bill would also include any conflict led by NATO. What must concern us all is what is being done to clear up these dangerous devices. We know that if they are left, they kill and injure yet more people, possibly including children. Farmland will not be used because people will be too scared to till their fields.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page