I beg to move amendment 4, page 21, line 29, leave out "may" and insert "shall".
Copy and paste this code on your website
Clause 33 covers the extent of the proposed Act. My amendments seek to strengthen the provisions which, as drafted, will allow the Government to extend by Order in Council the provisions of the legislation to cover the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the British overseas territories.
Amendment 4 would replace the provision that gives the Government the power to extend the coverage of the Act, should they choose to exercise it, with an insistence that the Secretary of State bring forward such a scheme to cover the British overseas territories, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Amendment 5 would require such an extension to cover all those territories, which would prevent any Government from holding back and choosing not to apply the provisions of the convention to one or two particular territories.
On Second Reading, the Minister was at pains to assure the House that the Government fully intended to extend the provisions of the legislation to cover the British overseas territories, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. He gave an indication that the Government wished to move forward on that front sooner rather than later, and I hope that he will repeat that assurance now. Given that that is the Government's declared intention, however, I would have thought that they might accept these modest amendments-especially amendment 4-and accept the imposition upon themselves of a duty so to act.
I would add one further point. Two of the British overseas territories-Ascension island and Diego Garcia-play host to United States military bases. As I understand it, there are different leasing agreements in respect of those two territories. There is quite understandable concern that the British Government intend to extend the provisions of the cluster munitions convention to those territories, along with the others. It would help the Committee if the Minister indicated whether he foresaw any particular obstacles, given the legitimate presence of US forces on those two islands or whether in discussions between the British and the US Government any such problems have been overcome.
I rise briefly to say that the amendments are good proposals. I see no reason for having "may" and not "shall", so we need clear assurance from the Minister. To be fair to him, when my hon. Friend Jo Swinson pressed him on this matter on Second Reading, particularly in respect of Diego Garcia, he gave some clear commitments and explained that the stockpiles of cluster munitions there at the moment will be taken away by 2013. That is good. That being the case, however, I cannot see why there is any problem opting for "shall" rather than "may". I hope that the Minister can help us out on that.
I participated in a Westminster Hall debate initiated by Jeremy Corbyn only a few days ago on the issue of the British overseas territories, particularly the two just mentioned. The Chagos island disputes and the whole question of Diego Garcia were considered, as was the extent to which there were continuing problems of displacement and compensation and whether people could return to their properties. My hon. Friend Mr. Lidington alluded to aspects of those problems.
There is no doubt, on the basis of what Mr. Davey said and other evidence-or, at least, other assertions-that cluster munitions are stockpiled or lying in those territories. The formula adopted in clause 33(3) is not that unusual, but if we leave aside the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which I do think are likely to present problems, we need to look at the acute difficulty arising for the British overseas territories, particularly those mentioned by me, by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. It is essential to clarify this matter, because there will otherwise be a serious contradiction.
Because these are British overseas territories, all the debates we have had about the interaction between ourselves and, say, the United States or other allies, arise in a very practical sense in this provision. This is about cluster munitions, the question of nationality, the question of residence and territorial rights and the question of whether cluster munitions are in a certain place. We should leave aside Afghanistan, where there is an essential, immediate and practical clear and present danger of these provisions impinging on persons within the jurisdiction of the UK. We are looking for a very specific answer from the Minister. I am sure he has got one, but I hope that it is going to be satisfactory.
I will do my best. We want to make sure that all the overseas territories are fully compliant with the convention as swiftly as possible. There are two complicating elements in that. First, each of the overseas territories has its own constitution and its own legal set-up. Consequently, when we introduce the convention in each of those countries, we have to take cognisance of that. That is why, although there is very little difference in practice between "shall" and "may", I would prefer to stick with "may" because "shall" implies that the overseas territories themselves will have no say in the way in which implementation is brought forward. That is the only difference between us on that issue.
The Minister will understand why I immediately refer him back to clause 29 and the power to modify Acts. One wonders about the extent to which it is within the framework of the UK Parliament to make adjustments to the constitutions of the British overseas territories, and I do not know what the Minister has in mind. The constitutions or the treaties made with other allies might affect the manner in which the residents of the overseas territories could be unreasonably damaged or inhibited in how to deal with cluster munitions, particularly in the specific territories mentioned. Is the Minister prepared to take power, using clause 29, which provides for the power to modify Acts, in order to achieve those objectives, or is he just going to talk to the local legislature and ask if it might be interested or prepared to make the necessary changes? How is he going to go about it?
It varies significantly from one overseas territory to another. Obviously, the Falklands is different from Pitcairn, which is very different from the British Indian ocean territory. The term of conviction on indictment in previous legislation that we wanted to introduce across all the overseas territories to match UK legislation had to be replaced by reference instead to convictions by the supreme court of the territory, because the concept of conviction on indictment is unknown in the British Antarctic or the British Indian ocean territory.
That is why the two amendments proposed by Mr. Lidington, with whose direction of travel I entirely sympathise, are inappropriate. They rather conflict with the policy that we tried to adopt with the overseas territories, which is to bring them with us rather than simply impose upon them. There is also the element of wanting to ensure that the precise way in which the individual clauses are applied to each of the overseas territories works within the legal context of the respective territories. As I say, they are very different. Over the last few years, we have dealt with each of the overseas territories, bringing in new constitutions that meet a series of other considerations, such as the European convention on human rights or the Human Rights Act 1998 in the UK.
The absolute assurance I can give is that whether or not we end up with "may" or "shall" in amendment 4 and whether or not we accept amendment 5 will make not a single bit of difference to the process we will engage in or the swiftness with which we expect to be able to engage in it.
The Minister has argued that because some of the terms in the Bill are not consistent with the legal frameworks in some of the overseas territories, the amendments would not be appropriate. Surely, however, clause 33(3) states:
"by Order in Council provide for any of the provisions of this Act to extend, with modifications (including additions or omissions)".
If aspects of the Bill do not rhyme with provisions in some of the overseas territories, it can obviously be taken into account in the legislation that would be made.
But, if my hon. Friend will allow me to say so, that is to forget amendment 5, which is to remove the word "any". That is precisely the point. If we remove the word "any" and turn "may" into "shall", we would have to introduce everything as it is. There is no difference of view over the end-point that we want to arrive at, which is that there should be no cluster munitions on British overseas territories or anywhere under UK jurisdiction. We will move as quickly as we possibly can and I want to be able to do so with the assistance of the overseas territories.
Does the Minister have it in mind that 2013 will be the date by which the convention and the Bill will take effect in all these territories?
Yes, absolutely. In relation to Diego Garcia in particular, as I said last week, the United States has made it clear that it will remove all its stockpile in the UK by the end of the year, and across the whole of the UK's jurisdictions by 2013. With that, I hope that hon. Members will not feel the need to press the amendments.
I listened with interest to the Minister's comments, and I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend Mr. Cash and the hon. Members for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on the matter. The Minister certainly persuaded me with regard to amendment 5-I can see that to delete the words "any of" would introduce an unsuitable element of inflexibility. I am less persuaded, however, by his assurances about whether "shall" or "may" is the more appropriate word to use.
I do not doubt the Minister's sincerity when he says that the Government's intention is to press forward as soon as possible, and I accept to some extent his point that the Government are anxious not to offend the susceptibilities of the British overseas territories and want to bring them with the Government, so that they feel they have some ownership of the legislation as it extends to their parts of the world. On the other hand, amendment 4 would not insist that legislation is extended to the British overseas territories in a particular form. As the hon. Member for Foyle pointed out, subsection (3) provides for "any of the provisions" to be extended; it does not insist that all are extended at once, or at all, to each of the territories. It makes express provision for modifications, including additions or omissions. The Government have less cause to be concerned about amendment 4 than they do about amendment 5. The amendment offers us a way to improve the Bill in a modest but worthwhile fashion, and I intend to press it to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee proceeded to a Division.